For Every Action

Children ran through gutters reeking of waste, oblivious to the fact life could be so much better. That it was so much better mere steps away.

No, not oblivious, Jack O'Neill thought upon closer review. The kids ran but what they were doing could not be considered playing. There were no smiles or laughter. Their bellies were distended and grotesque, their arms and legs like sticks. There was nothing but squalor as far as the eye could see, grime on every corner, and the expressions on people's faces spoke of relentless destitution. He had traveled the Earth over, had seen much in his day. But this ... this was unexpected and so shocking. There had been no gradual change of neighborhood, just a rapid switch from affluent to poor.

"Oh, my god," Carter whispered. "Are we on the same planet?"

"It would seem we are, Captain Carter," Teal'c said.

The posh neighborhood SG-1 had only just left was so disparate from the images that now befell them Jack felt slightly dizzy, like he had been spun too quickly in a revolving door. Instead of homes made of brick, stucco or the highest grains of wood, these people lived in rusted tin sheds, some with no doors, and most with holes in the roofs. The sewage-lined streets spoke of no plumbing. It was easy to assume other conveniences weren't available either. No electricity, no running water, nothing to make life even a little more bearable. There was no industry here, none of the technology that abounded in the city. Beside him, Daniel choked what he thought might be an attempted response to Carter's question. It could just as easily have been revulsion.

Jack had an inexplicable feeling SG-1 weren't meant to have seen this part of Wiutehian society, an inkling that set his nerves on edge. He had maintained a definite suspicion about their potential allies since they had set foot on the planet, and now it solidified into full-blown comprehension; the polish the political attach had demonstrated was just that - a shiny coating to pretty up ugliness beneath. The city they had been given a grandiose tour of yesterday was a front, a deception. He didn't want to be right about that. The SGC needed him to be wrong, because they were sitting on a planet that could keep both science and military happy for a long time.

"God," Daniel said, finally managing to speak. He reached up and unclipped one side of his backpack. "This is..."

"Whatcha doin'?" Jack asked as Daniel unclipped the other side of his pack and spun around to try and catch it before it thudded to the ground.

"Obviously we're not equipped to do much, but we have our MREs. Blankets. Tablets to purify the water. That sort of thing."

Okay, not a bad thought. Jack glanced around. Either they were either being ignored or they hadn't been seen yet. He watched as Carter followed Daniel's lead, emptying her pack of relief paraphernalia, and then so did Teal'c. Jack sighed. Daniel was right, but every ounce of his being was screaming at him to back away, and back away quickly.

"Yeah, good idea. But let's make it fast."

"Jack, we can't just leave these people like this," Daniel protested, just as Jack knew he would. And Jack agreed on one level, but on another he could only predict disaster. "Look at them. It ... this..."

"I just have this feeling we're not supposed to be here." Even as he said it, Jack knew if those words had come out of anyone else's mouth, he would have rolled his eyes and mocked them. He unfastened his backpack and started rooting through it. "The muckety-mucks aren't going to let us just waltz in here and fix a problem they're very likely aware of. Hell, for all we know, they made this."

"What do you mean, sir?"

Jack didn't know what he meant, that was the problem. He shrugged his shoulders, tossing his last MRE on the pile that had amassed. It was a pitiful example of aid.

"It's not the rich we should be thinking about right now. It's these..."

Daniel threw an arm out, casting it over the dilapidated collection of homes. Carter was behind him, clipping his backpack on. Both of them stared at him, a double dose of entreating eyes.

"I know that," Jack said. "I can see them. We can't do much of anything right now, not just the four of us. And it might be in these people's best interest if we don't mention our accidental journey here until we know more."

Never mind that it could also be in SG-1's best interest, Jack thought but didn't verbalize. His couldn't be the only spidey sense going off. He glanced at Teal'c and saw pretty much nothing in his expression. Someday he was going to get a line on the Jaffa. He switched his attention to Carter, usually a much better gauge. She looked peaked, overwhelmed by the misery surrounding them and therefore pretty much useless for any type of valid assessment. Jack took a few steps backward, toward where they came from. He needed to pull his team away from this horror before it sucked in at least the human members. It seemed to be doing just that, like there was some invisible force that could affect them in a very real way.

"Sir."

"Jack."

"Look, I'm not proposing we abandon these folks. We'll information gather." Jack cut off a dual protest with a swipe of his hand. "I want to make sure I understand the situation before we take any type of major action."

"We could information gather here too, Jack."

"Yeah, we could, but look around. It speaks for itself. So if someone would be so kind as to hook my pack back up, we need to get going. Now."

Daniel glared at him while Teal'c walked over to lend him the requested hand. Once his pack was secure, Jack turned around, more than ready to be on his way. He almost plowed right over a small child who had insinuated him ... her ... itself directly into his path. Guess SG-1 had been noticed after all.

"Jeez."

Jack sidestepped, flailing his arms slightly until he regained proper balance. The child blinked up at him, eyes enormous and sad. A bug crawled across its shoulder, and dirt smudged its face. God. He was not impervious to the depressing influence here himself. His stomach turned. He reminded himself that even on Earth such conditions existed. This place could easily be an impoverished shantytown in numerous Third World countries. But, no, this was different. This was literally right next door to wealth and power. His mental justifications did not make him feel any better. The child took a step toward him. Jack took a step away. It was instinctive, and the exact opposite of his usual reaction with kids. He felt like an asshole. He waved his hands out in front of him, as if to ward off the child.

"Yeah, let's go," Jack said.

"Leumas, emoc ereh! Teg yawamorf esoht elpoep," a man shouted, hobbling toward them. Dragging his crooked legs was a more accurate description, as the man relied on crutches for forward movement. "Uoy wonktahw sneppah nehw yeht eraereh."

Clearly, the universal translator thingamabob wasn't installed here, but Jack didn't need to understand the words to know panic. The man kept shouting unintelligibly. His cries drew the attention of more of the unfortunate citizens of the shantytown. Instead of rushing forward, which for some reason Jack expected they might do, adults grabbed listless children and shuttled them indoors. Right. What was he thinking, assuming the people might imagine they were here to help? He should know better by now.

"It's like they're afraid," Carter said, then spoke more loudly, to the people rather than the rest of SG-1, "You don't have to be frightened."

"I believe your efforts are futile, Captain Carter," Teal'c said.

Teal'c was right. The people couldn't understand SG-1 any more than SG-1 could understand them. Jack glanced at Daniel to see if he was catching any of the frantic man's outcries. Daniel shook his head back and forth, a horrified expression on his face but absolutely no indication he was translating. Jack thought maybe Daniel was starting to agree with him about getting out of here, except then Daniel took a step forward where he had hedged backward. The native apparently assumed even more ill intent, somehow managing to grasp Daniel's arms tightly for a moment before shoving him. The guy barely had any strength, but Daniel took two faltering steps to regain his balance.

"Truhem llauoy tnaw, tub evaelym nos enola." The man pushed Daniel one more time, probably to emphasize whatever his bizarre words were. He nearly toppled over himself.

"Hey," Jack said, moving closer. Nobody shoved his team members around, not even an impoverished cripple. Daniel now wore a strange, almost pained expression but he seemed unharmed. "Hands off."

"Ohwserac tuoba mih. Leumas, ogkcab edisni," the man said to the little boy. He glared at each of SG-1 in turn. "Uoy lliw tonmrah mih ynaregnol."

And then it was over. The man and boy left SG-1's immediate vicinity without any more shouting or shoving. Jack surveyed the tin houses one more time. What life there was before this little incident was quelled into nothingness. The neighborhood was dire before. Now it was damn spooky.

"I don't think we'll get any information out of these people."

"No," Daniel said, rubbing the back of his neck. "I'd say not."

"Convinced we should blow this Popsicle stand now?"

Daniel jutted out an arm, ushering Jack onward. Twenty short steps later they were out of the ghetto and back into cookie-cutter suburbia. He wasn't a big believer in environment having an impact on mood, but he swore he felt better just for being in a much more appealing place. The smell of sewer lingered, however, clinging to his clothes and hair.

"I wonder why the Wiutehians didn't tell us about that part of town," Carter said. "It's not like we wouldn't understand impoverishment. It happens everywhere."

"I have not seen such a place on Earth."

"That's only because we tend to hide it a bit further away from us, Teal'c," Daniel said. "Division of classes is an understandable occurrence, actually. I'm sure there are different classes of Jaffa in your society. I'd guess having a figurehead like Apophis - or any of the Goa'uld for that matter - would also make religion a primary reason for societal tiers."

"Indeed."

Daniel looked a little thrown, like he had expected Teal'c to issue a wordy response. Damn, Jack was going to have to take lessons from Teal'c on how to best get Daniel to shut up with one simple word. Jack was well aware Daniel had a point, but just couldn't shake the feeling there was something very different about this situation.

"I'm thinking it's more like the Touched and Untouched," Jack said.

"Yes, Jack, you're right. It's like ancient India," Daniel said absently.

"Ancient India?" Teal'c said.

Jack could just tell a brain numbing explanation was coming. So much for Teal'c stunning Daniel into silence.

"On Earth, in India specifically, there was a very defined social system," Daniel explained for Teal'c's benefit. "At the bottom of the scale was a group called the Untouchables. These were people who worked jobs that were viewed as embarrassing and low-level. Unclean occupations, if you will. The Untouchables essentially had no rights in society."

Jack hadn't seen any industry at all back there. He turned around to glance back at the ghetto but he couldn't see it anymore. Huh. It didn't seem to him those folks performed any work at all, at least not there. And if not there, where? Sure as hell not in the pristine city they now walked through.

"Treatment of Untouchables was different by region. In some regions the Untouchables were seen merely as tainted people and their dwellings were at a distance from the rest of the settlements. The Untouchables were not allowed to touch people from those 'clean' settlements, let alone cross the tracks."

"Cross the..."

"Never mind, Teal'c. It's an expression," Jack said, glaring at Daniel.

"I see."

"That sounds similar to what we have here, Daniel," Carter said.

It also sounded similar to his own guess of Touched/Untouched, but he didn't mention that, afraid if he did so Daniel would go off on another tangent. He'd just let Daniel think he had referenced Earth culture, not the Land of Light.

"I hope so."

"You hope so? Why?"

"Because in other regions of ancient India, the division wasn't quite so benign. If, because of any reason, there was a contact between an Untouchable and a member of a higher caste, person of higher caste became defiled and had to be purified. In some cases, an Untouchable could have been beaten or murdered for daring to touch someone of a different caste."

"So we don't tell anyone you got touched, Daniel. From the looks of him, that guy doesn't need any more grief and, well, purification could mean so many diverse and wonderful things," Jack said.

"Yeah."

They fell into silence as they walked back toward the center of town. Jack started to regret that they had even let themselves get off the beaten trail. Life was so much easier in ignorance. Both Daniel and Carter would probably kill him for thinking that, but it was true. Without knowing about the ghetto, a trade agreement could have easily been hashed out. Now the situation was much stickier. Morally complicated. Okay, now he was just disgusting himself. Maybe he really was a closet bastard. Daniel stumbled, apparently over his own feet because the walkways here were smooth, even, and perfect. Putting out a hand, Jack barely prevented Daniel from taking a total header.

"Careful there," he said.

"I think I'm still a little distracted. Whatever that guy was upset about, he was very intense."

"He made me nervous, too." Carter put a hand on Daniel's arm. "I think he just thought you were going to hurt the boy, though."

"That's what worries me. They probably thought we were Wiutehians, and if their first reaction is to hide ... well, what does that remind you of?"

"It reminds me of many alien races' attempts to avoid subjugation by Apophis," Teal'c said.

They got quiet again, and Jack knew his team felt the same way he did - that it was not a very happy comparison. Their shiny new trade partners were potentially Goa'uld-like. The city center was just ahead. Hopefully no one noticed their absence, and even if they did it was time to zip the lips with all the suppression-of-the-masses talk. It wouldn't be good for interplanetary relations to have read the situation all wrong. Provided the unease he and his team felt was way off base, which Jack seriously doubted, things could still carry on smoothly. The slum might be very easily explained, though he did want to know how they camouflaged it so well.

"Look sharp, people. I shouldn't have to say this, but I don't want any kind of confrontation."

"Yes, sir."

"To alarm the Wiutehians would indeed be an inappropriate course of action."

Good, he knew they'd agree with...

"Daniel? We won't be raising this issue until we know more." Daniel was always the question mark, and Jack still needed concrete assurance his orders were clearly understood. Looking at Daniel, Jack didn't think he was going to wage a protest. No, the guy just looked distracted. "Daniel, you with me?"

"What?" Daniel blinked.

Jack frowned.

Daniel blinked again.

"Jack, I don't think we should let them know we're suspicious."

Jack refrained - just barely - from cuffing Daniel upside the head. He looked over at Carter, catching her returning her attention back to where the ghetto should be. They were all off their games, he realized, and it just added to his apprehension. As much as his impulse was to provide some aid to the forlorn members of this society, he also wanted to walk straight through the 'gate and not look back.

"Ah, there you are," Bajiar called, trotting down the steps of the large city hall building.

Now that was a guy Jack had pegged as slick from the moment they had met. The way Daniel described Bajiar's position he was the mayor of this burgh. Or magistrate. Or something. He hadn't really paid much attention, he admitted. Didn't matter so much. It was the slickness that mattered, and slickness was never something he really liked to see in a group's negotiator. Besides religious fanaticism, slickness was right at the top of the list of unfavorable attributes. The guy could be a used car salesman, sans a tacky suit.

"I wondered where you disappeared to."

He plastered a grin on his face, which Bajiar seemed to mirror. Jack found that very disconcerting. He wasn't sure how to play the situation. Lying outright would probably only end up biting them in the ass.

"We were stretching our legs."

"I see." Bajiar's smile was plaster, molded to fit one particular shape.

Jack was only starting to realize how difficult it was to read the alien. He was like Teal'c, only on the opposite end of the emotional spectrum. And short, very pale, unmuscular, verbose...

"I expected you back over twenty minutes ago. Captain Carter, you'll be happy to know I've arranged several tours of our science labs just for you," Bajiar said.

Carter looked at him for direction. Jack nodded. That was as good a place as any to ask questions. He just hoped they weren't all expected to tag along.

"That sounds great," Carter said.

Bajiar started leading them up the steps. Jack noticed that several large fellows situated themselves directly behind and around SG-1. Escorts. He scowled and toyed with his MP-5. The Wiutehians had been non-violent thus far, but then SG-1 hadn't done anything to piss them off.

"Where exactly did you go on your walk?" Bajiar said.

The question was harmless, but it was asked carefully. There was definitely a right and a wrong answer, and Jack suspected Bajiar and the goons surrounding them already knew where they had been. He also suspected they weren't too happy about it.

"We went sightseeing," Jack said. "Carter here is thinking of building her own house and she wanted to see if she get some ideas from your architecture."

"And did you, Captain Carter?"

Carter shot him an annoyed look, and then her eyes widened. Jack followed her gaze, only to see Daniel falling up the stairs. This time he wasn't able to get a hold on Daniel before impact. He winced at the thump. That had to hurt and what was up with Daniel anyway? His teammate picked himself up, glasses askew and cheeks reddened with embarrassment.

"I seem to have two left feet today," Daniel said.

Understatement.

"You are well, though?" Bajiar asked, eyes narrowing slightly.

"I'm fine."

Truthfully, now that he thought about it, Jack could kiss Daniel for the unwitting distraction he just provided. Maybe Bajiar's question to Carter would get lost in the shuffle, and his 2IC wouldn't need to dig him out the hole his flippancy had started.

"Good. Now, Captain Carter, how did you find our architecture?"

Maybe not. Carter resumed glaring at him, and so Jack cleared his throat.

Bajiar focused on him once more.

"Okay, we'll be honest with you. We weren't looking at architecture. We really were just stretching our legs, though. Imagine our surprise to end up in the slums."

"I smell it on you." Bajiar sniffed. "I smelled it before you were within twenty feet of me."

"You have a great nose then."

"You must wonder why we keep our poor so effectively hidden."

"Yes, a little," Daniel said. "Are you ashamed of them?"

Bajiar looked at him, nostrils flaring. He leaned close to Daniel.

Jack bristled at the manner in which Bajiar sized up Daniel, like he was a cheap, drunk woman at a bar, an easy mark. And that analogy was incorrect, because Bajiar didn't look interested in the guy so much as disdainful toward him.

"Not ashamed. We don't see reason to let that particular ... environment despoil ours. As you witnessed yourselves, we do not put up a tangible barrier, for if we did you would never have happened upon it."

"Barriers don't have to be tangible to be solid," Daniel said. "Are you doing anything to help them?"

Bajiar's left eye twitched. Jack saw their escorts moving closer as Bajiar futzed around to open the big door. The interior of the building was dark, and though they had already been inside, Jack was suddenly apprehensive about going back in. It was Daniel's image coming to life, he thought, because nothing Bajiar said or did was a direct threat but it still felt very real. Intangible solidity.

"We provide aid where we can."

Someone snorted. Judging by the trajectory and strength of the resulting wind gust, Jack would put money on that someone being Teal'c. He raised his eyebrows and looked at Teal'c inquisitively. He supposed, though, Teal'c would know better than any of them what repression was and just what role oppressors had in it. The guy had filled both sets of shoes at the same time.

"Aid? Can you give us specifics?" Daniel asked.

So much for no confrontation. Jack wasn't particularly annoyed with Daniel for disregarding his earlier directive, however. He was actually heartened by it. At least Daniel seemed more with it now. No matter what the question, he figured Bajiar had a sidestep at the ready; the alien was apparently a master at vague answers.

"I think perhaps it is time for you to go."

Well, that was out of the blue.

"Isn't that overreacting a bit?" Jack said.

Clearly Bajiar didn't think so, and if Bajiar didn't think so then the whole of the Wiutehian leaders wouldn't think so. The goons corralled SG-1 closer to the doorway. Jack noticed just how massive they were.

"We cannot negotiate with people who are untruthful, Colonel O'Neill. You ventured out where you were not invited and then you lied about it."

"Oh, come on. This is not about us walking around. It's about finding those poor people."

"You claim to value truth, and yet you seem unable to be truthful yourselves," Daniel said. "We haven't asked for anything but reasonable explanations and information."

The conversation was over. A meaty hand clutched at the nape of his neck. Jack squirmed out of it easily enough, but found that Carter and Daniel weren't quite as able. Teal'c glowered at the henchmen, as if daring them to attempt touching him. None did.

"We would have preferred for you to leave voluntarily."

This was all ridiculous. Like Daniel said, Jack didn't understand what could be so terrible about SG-1 wanting to have a little more information. It seemed the Wiutehians were a very black and white people. There was truth and there were lies, there was wealth and there was poverty, and never the twain should meet. Hammond would feel the heat on this one and he regretted that, but at this point it wasn't up to him. He hated the loss of control more than anything.

"We still can. Get your hands off them. Now." Jack skirted around until his back was against the wall and fingered his MP-5. He didn't want violence. Bajiar was unperturbed at having a weapon pointed at him, which made Jack even more nervous. The thugs didn't move. "Get your hands off them, please."

Carter continued to buck against the big hands ... and now arms ... holding her. She was bodily lifted from the ground and carried through the doorway.

Teal'c took a step forward, and the thugs that couldn't hold him finally drew weapons, out of thin air.

It made sense that if they could hide an entire segment of the population from the naked eye they could also hide small armament, Jack thought.

"Hey, knock it off. We're going."

With guns literally pointed at his and Teal'c's heads and the other two members of his team being manhandled, Jack had no choice but to hold his hands up and involuntarily go where told. He did manage to glare at the crowd of gawkers that lined the edges of the hall's grand, marble-laden atrium housing the Stargate. His primary concern was that they'd be tossed through the 'gate before they could input the iris code. Of course, he should have realized Bajiar would dial the coordinates himself and that Earth was not the destination. Carter was tossed through to the unknown location, then Daniel was held halfway into the wormhole while he and Teal'c moved toward the event horizon. Daniel, bless him, was still fighting for all he was worth just to give his captor a rough time.

"It didn't need to come to this," Jack said.

Jack couldn't actually figure out why it had. Teal'c strode into the activated Stargate, and for that Jack was glad. He wasn't about to leave without Daniel, but was a bit concerned about Carter. Bajiar didn't say anything. Jack sighed.

"Okay, let him go."

And let Daniel go they did, with an overzealous shove. Jack followed, no longer the slightest bit regretful for severing ties. If he never saw the Wiutehians again it would be too soon.

~~*~~

As far as planets went, the one Bajiar dumped them on wasn't bad. She had expected someplace more like a prison. Sam picked herself up from the ground and started brushing sand off her backside. She was going to be sore in a couple hours, but that was nothing compared to her bruised pride. She never should have been overpowered like that. She glanced up at dual suns. She still had one hand on her ass when she heard the sucking sound of a wormhole discharging a person. She turned around in time to see Teal'c step gracefully through the Stargate.

"Are you well, Captain Carter?"

"Oh, I'm fine." Sam dropped her hand quickly and righted her hat. "I couldn't possibly be better."

She turned slowly. They had gone from an urban paradise to a tropical one. Lush flora edged along a white sand beach and green water lapped on the shore. The air smelled of wet, hot salt as the breeze rolled from the sea, but it wasn't unpleasant. Either Bajiar didn't know where he had sent them or he wasn't that bad of a bad guy after all. She doubted the last was possible, so she instantly became wary of her surroundings. They might not be as beautiful as they seemed. She fingered her weapon, glad hadn't been disarmed. Thank goodness for small favors.

"Are the colonel and Dan...?"

Daniel flew through the 'gate in much the same manner she had, arms and legs flailing, before she could finish her question. He landed on the ground with an 'oof' and a couple of rolls.

Guess that answered part of her question. Sam moved toward her downed teammate.

"Daniel, you okay?"

"Just great," Daniel said, voice muffled by sand. He started coughing and flipped over onto his back. It looked really uncomfortable, what with his backpack underneath him. He let his head hang upside down. "Where are we?"

Like they could answer that question.

"Sons of bitches," the colonel said as he abruptly stalked through the wormhole, immediately focusing on Daniel, then switching to her. "You all right, Daniel? Carter?"

"Fine," they both told him at once.

Daniel sat up with his legs stretched out in front of him like a little kid. He had an expression on his face that Sam was certain was similar to the one she had earlier - knowledge of aches and pains to come. She found herself wincing again. The 'gate shut down, leaving them in relative silence. A bird screeched from high above them, in the tree canopy.

"Great. Let's go home and face the music."

Good idea ... only Sam realized that in her quick perusal of their immediate surroundings she hadn't seen a DHD. Oh, fabulous. She saw belatedly that the Stargate was on a dais, and that said dais was mostly buried by sand. It would take Colonel O'Neill about two seconds to figure that out on his own and then...

"Shit, where's the DHD?"

"There does not appear to be one, O'Neill."

Sam wondered if Teal'c was always going to state the obvious. In some ways, she found it kind of endearing and goodness knew she needed any little bit of connection she could get with him. He was so formal all the time, and so silent. It made her nervous more often than not, to be honest, and reminded her more than the tattoo on his forehead that he was an entirely different species.

"Yeah, you think?"

"I do."

Yes, bless Teal'c. The colonel looked so cranky and exasperated that it was almost humorous. If they hadn't just been dumped in prison - albeit a very nice prison - Sam might have laughed. As it was, she held her amusement to a smile and then held out her hand to Daniel, who grasped it and clumsily scrambled to his feet. Her shoulder felt the strain, making her think she was doing more to get Daniel vertical than he was himself. She let go once he stood rather waveringly, and then she rubbed her strained shoulder.

"So priority one is to find the DHD," Sam said, shooting Daniel an annoyed look for her newest ache. Great, though, now she was channeling Teal'c, only from her it didn't sound very charming at all. She could tell the colonel was glaring at her. She made a show of searching for the missing device. "But we might not even need it. The Stargate could have an extra reserve of power and we could dial out manually."

"Like on Ernest's planet," Daniel said.

"There wasn't any reserve power there. You were off busy seeking the meaning of life while we all had to juice the thing up." O'Neill started pacing.

Sam raised her eyebrows at the jab aimed toward Daniel, and had to admit he was right about the 'gate. They had no guarantee they'd be able to dial out.

"We do what Carter said first, and look for the DHD. It's not like we don't have time to search the vicinity of the Stargate on this veritable oasis of a planet."

Veritable? Not a huge linguistic stretch of vocabulary, but the usage certainly made her think her CO wasn't as dim as he'd like people to believe. And, again, she had to admit he had a valid point - they could all work on their tans while they conducted their search. Sam knew she wouldn't complain if they ended up having to spend a little time here.

"We've just won five days and four nights in sunny Puerto Vallarta?" She could stand to work on her game show announcer voice, judging from the strange looks that got her. "Er."

"Yeah, Carter."

O'Neill's expression was now wary, as if he expected a second head to grow on her shoulder. She didn't see why he was the only one who could have a sense of humor.

"But without the gourmet meals."

"Oh," Daniel said. "No MREs."

If only they knew then what they knew now. Wasn't that how the expression went? Chances were they would still have given their food and blankets and water purification tablets and canteens ... oh, crap, this could be bad. Sam looked at Daniel, who was looking at his feet. She could see why he might think this was his fault, somehow, but it simply wasn't. The point might not even be an important one. They could find the DHD right away and be back at the SGC in a matter of minutes. She glanced at the dense underbrush and didn't think she was going to be right on that count.

"We won't need them." Sam smiled. False confidence was still confidence, sort of. Right?

"All right," the colonel said. "Carter, Teal'c, take south of the gate."

"Jack, the DHD is never off to the side somewhere. Shouldn't we search the beach?"

"Oh, yes, Daniel. We will search the beach. That's our job."

She and Teal'c got to root around in the thick tangle of plants while the colonel and Daniel frolicked on the beach. In her way of reasoning, that was unfair. Sam eyed her search partner, who was taking off his backpack, vest and jacket and exposing ample biceps in the process. She changed her mind. Not so unfair after all. She thought she just realized another reason why Teal'c was starting to grow on her. If she was going to get all sweaty in the underbrush, at least she had him to look at.

"Great." Daniel started removing excess clothing as well, and so did the colonel.

Sam decided they could be stranded here for a good long while and it wouldn't bother her a bit. She never would have guessed Daniel had muscle, but she caught a glimpse of decently toned arms when his shirtsleeves rode up a little. And the colonel wasn't bad to look at either. No wonder other females at the SGC gave her dirty looks all the time. Not that she'd ever do anything but admire. Admiration was nice and safe.

"We'll probably need to dig," Daniel said.

O'Neill adopted a horrified expression, which lasted a millisecond before he schooled it into bored indifference.

Sam grinned, turning away quickly so her CO wouldn't see that she had glimpsed his comprehension. There was a lot of sand. She lost her smile when she considered Daniel and O'Neill would still be digging long after she and Teal'c finished their search, and that she'd be digging right alongside them.

"I'll keep an eye out for signs of sentient life," the colonel said, walking a few steps closer to the lapping waves. "We could be on a world populated with those fish people."

"To whom do you refer?"

"Nem?"

Daniel and Teal'c spoke almost in sync. Daniel appeared startled by it, and Teal'c just raised his eyebrow. Actually, Daniel looked a little peaked and pale. He often looked pained around Teal'c, though she doubted he realized it. It couldn't be easy, Sam thought, to work side by side with one of the people responsible for the abduction and Goa'uld implantation of a loved one. She was pretty sure she wouldn't be able to handle it quite as well as Daniel did every day.

"Yeah, that guy."

"You don't think...wait a minute," Daniel said. He wavered on his feet again, and Sam narrowed her eyes. He'd been upright for a while, he shouldn't be having difficulty keeping balance anymore. "Are you really going to make me do this by myself while you stare at the water?"

"Consider it strength training." O'Neill turned to give Daniel a quick smirk, then did a double take.

Sam followed his gaze back to Daniel, who actually managed to look more tired than he had mere seconds ago.

The colonel frowned and said, "Actually, I've changed my mind. I could use some exercise myself."

"Yes." Daniel smiled a little uncertainly, but it did make him seem slightly less drawn. "I've heard that staying in shape becomes more difficult past a certain age."

Damn, Sam wished she could speak to the colonel like that - flippant and relaxed. She let out a small chuckle as she shucked her own jacket. O'Neill spluttered something in reply, but she was busy eyeing the plant life she was about to come up and close and personal with. She put the jacket back on. Teal'c might have a built-in boosted immune system, but she didn't. It could easily be a patch of alien poison ivy for all she knew.

The bird in the trees shrieked again, joined by a number of others. A flutter of activity drew her attention upward in time to see several gigantic creatures launching into the air. They flew with fluid grace and beauty, and for a moment she was captivated by how something so seemingly commonplace could be so unfamiliar at the same time. The 'birds' didn't have feathers as far as she could see, and their beaks were long and powerful. Even from her vantage point fifty feet below, she could see ridged protrusions jutting out from their crowns. They looked ... they didn't look like birds, exactly.

Sam felt Teal'c move by her and she looked back down. She was apparently the only one looking up. The colonel and Daniel were already busy studiously checking the area of the beach where the DHD would logically be, based on previous experiences. Tossing one last fleeting look aloft, she then joined Teal'c. They weren't going to find the DHD where they were searching, she thought, but she could do a cursory survey of what natural resources they could glean if they had to. If the DHD was buried it was still going to take time to dig it out. She looked up again, staring at the suns' filtered rays.

"Teal'c, do you know if solar energy could charge a Stargate if it was exposed long enough?"

"I believe it cannot," he said. "My knowledge, however, is limited. The Goa'uld were careful to do nothing that might encourage questions among the ranks of Jaffa."

"And that included revealing the technology, because if you knew it was all explainable you wouldn't believe in them anymore."

"Much like Tau'ri children eventually learn there is no such thing as Santa Claus."

"Yes," Sam said with surprise. "How did you know about that?"

"I read extensively."

She wished they had the same luxury with Teal'c's culture. As it was they usually didn't get information from him until any given Goa'uld issue was quite imminent. Sam didn't know how her commanding officers managed to be okay with such a convenient, limited exchange of information. She didn't expect Teal'c to sit down and write The Manual to All Things Goa'uld for them, but he could share a bit more openly. But that was neither here nor there.

"I suppose you have to have something do to while we're not on missions."

"Indeed."

Teal'c parted various clumps of greenery, but it was as she suspected - the DHD was not there. Actually, if they had found it here, it would have been a bad, bad thing. The only way she could imagine it situated over here was if it had been disconnected somehow and moved, therefore rendered useless. She watched Teal'c for any adverse reactions to the plants, but he didn't demonstrate any. Even with a symbiote helping him, he probably would have some type of initial reaction. She thought. Maybe.

"Skin contact does not appear harmful, Captain Carter."

Nonplussed, Sam glanced at Teal'c. Her face must have given her trepidation away, because he'd sussed out her thoughts easily. He tipped his head at her. She reached out and swept her hand against a hanging vine. So far so good, no reaction, but there had better not be a delayed reaction. She'd had a bad run-in with poison oak as a kid and did not ever want a repeat of that experience. She peeked over at Teal'c with a smile.

"That's good. At least we'll have a natural resource for toilet paper if we're here long enough to need it."

"Indeed," he said. "It is fortuitous."

Sam swore she saw the beginnings of an answering smile.

She grinned back. It was warm back here, any breeze from the ocean or lake or sea or whatever not making it through the thick foliage. Deeming it safe enough and dispelling with her paranoia surrounding the plant life, Sam eased out of her jacket. She felt about ten degrees cooler instantly.

"I suppose we should go help Daniel and the colonel dig holes on the beach."

"Would it not be a wise idea to further explore the topography of this world, Captain Carter? As O'Neill suggested, there may indeed be sentient life forms present."

"Stands to reason, Teal'c." Sam nodded to herself. She did not relish the thought of digging holes, and if they were here they might as well gain some intel. They could even find something of use here, and then their casting off here would have yet another bonus. "I mean, we were sent here, right? Someone else might have been."

"I do not believe beings will come from the sea as O'Neill suggested. We should determine if there is more than fowl here, and also what level of threat any life form could be."

See? Teal'c was very pragmatic and helpful. Sam hoped she could maintain a comfort level with him so that if he had suggestions he wouldn't hesitate to give them without prompting. Something told her it wouldn't be that easy. Easy was not a word she'd use to describe any facet of Teal'c that she had seen so far. From what she could tell, he was a warrior first, friend a very distant second and his barriers were solid.

"I think you're right. We should probably let the others know, though." She touched a hand to her radio, then dropped it. "After we've gone further inland."

Teal'c gave her another almost-smile. She figured it would be harder for the colonel to say no if they were already doing reconnaissance. That was a handy trick she learned from Daniel, even if the instruction was unintentional on his part. She gave Teal'c point, getting her weapon at the ready.

They made it about one hundred, uneventful steps.

"Carter, Teal'c!"

The colonel hadn't even used his radio, bellowing loudly instead. He didn't sound angry. He sounded panicked. Sam moved without thinking, running back toward the beach. Teal'c started out behind her, but quickly sped past her.

"Carter!"

She sped up, heart racing from more than the exertion. She didn't know why the colonel hadn't used his radio and tried to tell herself it was because he assumed she and Teal'c were nearer than they were. Sam broke through the foliage only a second behind Teal'c and saw the colonel kneeling over Daniel, who was in a graceless sprawl and clearly unconscious.

"Sir, what happened?" she said as she slid to her knees next to the colonel. "Daniel?"

"I don't know. I was facing the other direction. I asked him a question and when he didn't answer, I turned around and there he was."

It probably wasn't a normal faint. Most people who pass out start regaining some sort of consciousness the moment they hit the ground. Daniel wasn't moving at all, and his face was a terrible shade of gray. Sam lifted her MP-5 over her head, putting it aside and out of her way. She leaned close to Daniel in an attempt to gain more than a visual assessment. There were no obvious signs of injury. She started at the head, running her fingers along Daniel's scalp.

"This doesn't make any sense," the colonel said, more to himself than to her, Sam thought. "I would have heard if something attacked him, right, and they wouldn't have just singled him out."

"No head trauma." Sam frowned. "Sir, look at the bruises on his arms. They're just forming."

"Bruises on his arms wouldn't make him pass out, Carter."

"I know that, sir." She was embarrassed about mentioning them, but so far it was the only physical ailment she had detected. She shook her head and continued her evaluation. There was nothing noticeable with Daniel's neck, torso or legs. "Whatever this is, it's not from an injury."

"He's sick?"

O'Neill scowled when she shrugged and put her hand on Daniel's forehead. He was a little warm to the touch, but they were in a pretty warm climate now and not dressed for it. They all probably felt warm.

"Daniel Jackson did appear unwell."

"Yeah, I noticed that," Sam said, leaving her hand where it was. Daniel's hair was damp. She brushed what stuck to his temples back absently. "He looked tired, unsteady on his feet."

"So, what? He just fell asleep?"

The subject in question moaned and shifted under her touch. Daniel started moving his hands in a bare, haphazard rhythm. His fingers lifted up off the ground and went back down, up and down. Sam gave her attention to his face for indications he was waking up, but his eyes remained closed. His glasses were askew. She removed her hand from his forehead to ease the frames off his face. Even that didn't rouse him into consciousness, though his hands raised higher and his legs moved.

"What's wrong with him?"

"I don't know, sir." Her exasperation manifested itself in a snappish tone. He couldn't really expect an answer. "We might not know until Daniel wakes up."

"Whenever that'll be," the colonel said, sounding for all the world like he was angry.

Which was how Sam knew he was really worried.

~~*~~

It was strange. Daniel couldn't recognize the noise he heard far off in the distance, but he knew what it was. That didn't make sense. His head, his head. His head felt funny. Shup-pish. Shup-pish. Sharp sound tapering off into something softer, less defined, and it seemed to be getting louder. Closer? Something. He concentrated, trying to pinpoint the exact noise. Name that tune. He twitched his fingers. Sand. It occurred to him maybe he should be worried that he didn't know where he was as much, if not more, than figuring out the cause of the odd sound.

"Sir, I think he's waking up."

Sam? Oh, good, Sam was here at least, and Jack. The shup-pishing stopped, replaced by phut-phutting. There was a regular old big band playing in his head, but there was no discernable song. The strange racket kind of made him sick to his stomach. Sick, sick. His skin felt hot. He had no idea why. Tiny pellets of sand sprinkled against his right hand and arm, and he noticed the phut-phut stopped.

"Daniel?"

Digging. He and Jack were supposed to be digging in the sand for the DHD. Shup-pish was a shovel or something. So Jack was digging and he was lying in the sand instead. That didn't seem right.

"Hey, Daniel?"

Without digging, we'll never find the DHD, Daniel said, or at least meant to. Jack didn't comment, which wasn't very like Jack at all, so Daniel wondered if he had actually spoken out loud. Small steps - open eyes first, talk later. He'd really rather not, he decided. His eyes were just fine in their closed state.

"Are you sure? He doesn't look any different than the last five times you thought he was waking up."

Five times. Wow, that seemed like a lot. If Jack abandoned digging each time ... Daniel's head swam. Because he was apparently unwell. He'd figured that out already. He thought he had, anyway. He really couldn't recall.

"Hey ... Daniel?"

Okay. He still didn't want to, but Jack seemed insistent and Sam worried. He tried. His eyelids didn't move, feeling stuck together with adhesive. The effort made his head go from feeling funny to hurting. He moaned in discomfort but was also pleased his voice box worked.

"Heard that," Jack said.

Something cool brushed across his forehead, stronger than a breeze. He was so warm, he realized. He leaned into the coolness, but it didn't last. Disappointment shot through him, along with a deeper flush of heat. He focused on opening his eyes again, succeeding enough to see a sliver of light and a peach blob above him.

"There he is. Daniel?"

That was about the twentieth time Jack had said his name, an occurrence which alone made him nervous. People didn't repeat names often during the course of a conversation, although this couldn't be said to be a conversation.

"Stay with us now, Daniel."

Daniel opened his eyes wider, feeling better once doing so but not by much. The last thing he remembered he had been staring down at the sand and wondering how he could see the individual grains from a standing position. That and the terrible disturbance the bird-things were making up in the trees. It was all coming back to him ... he hadn't been standing. He had seen the individual grains of sand only after faceplanting into it.

"Okay," Daniel said. This time he actually made sound, even if it wasn't entirely understandable as speech. His mouth felt as though he had slept with a wad of cotton batting in it. "Okay."

"Here, sip some water," said the peach blob, which turned out to be Sam.

His eyes were almost as fuzzy as his mouth and, coupled with his slight correction or lack thereof, really impaired his vision. The proffered canteen tipped up. Water dribbled down his chin.

"Sorry," Sam said.

The water felt good. He licked his lips. The small amount of moisture that had made it onto them helped a lot. Daniel cleared his throat and lifted his head to check out his surroundings. He managed to see he was under the shelter of a lean-to, and then the semi-cool thing on his forehead increased in pressure, pushing him back down to the ground. He protested with a grunt. He felt much better already, only a few minutes after waking up.

"You should take it easy." It was cloth - a bandana - on his head. Sam took it away for a moment, returning it wet and cool again. "You've been out of it for five hours, Daniel."

"I'm fine ... I think."

"You've been feverish and unconscious for..."

"Five hours," Daniel said. He coughed. Could use more water. "I heard that. I'm feeling much better."

"Better than when? You've been senseless for..."

"Five hours." This was getting old. The clearer his head became, the more annoying the circular conversation got. "Better than when I first woke up."

"Two minutes ago."

"Yes. What, uhm, what happened?"

Sam leaned closer, looking into his eyes. She seemed puzzled. Her hand went to his hair, fingers running through it as if it was the most natural thing in the world for her to do. To his recollection, she had never done that with him. Unless, of course, that was how she had spent the past several hours.

"We were hoping you could tell us."

"You passed out," Jack said, poking his head next to Sam's. Light colored dust covered Jack's face, settling most thickly on his nose. "When did you start feeling sick?"

Daniel moved his head, evading Sam's touch. She pulled away like she just realized what she was doing. If he thought about it, it was a little worrisome that he couldn't remember feeling poorly. Or the beginning of feeling poorly, he corrected. While he might sense a slight improvement, he had to admit he felt pretty crappy.

"I don't know that I did, exactly."

"How do you feel now?"

It wouldn't pay to downplay, he could tell that just by the expressions Jack and Sam wore. Daniel took a mental tally, and found he wasn't quite sure how to answer the question.

"Strange," he said.

"Strange how?" Jack swiped at his forehead, smearing the dust off. "Daniel, you have to help us out here."

"Achy. Uhm..." He blinked and wanted to keep his eyes shut. So he did. "Tired. My skin hurts."

"So, you passed out because you have the flu?"

"Sir."

"Well, it sounds like he has the flu."

Shup-pish. Shup-pish. The sound was back. Daniel might have been wrong in thinking it was the sound of shoveling. Maybe it was just his head, which ached more acutely again. Feeling better was apparently temporary or some sort of illusion or both of those options.

"Sir, the flu doesn't knock a person off his feet so quickly. It takes days."

"I was just sayin'."

"Ahm," Daniel said to stop their tangential conversation. They stopped the inanity, but then he couldn't remember what it was he was going to say. "Ahm."

"Daniel?"

"Mmm?"

"Daniel," Sam said, "You have to try to stay awake." Rustling cloth, softly crunching sand close to him. Sam sounded like she was talking through a tube. "This is not the flu, sir. Damnit."

"What?"

"I think his temperature is rising again."

Hot. Fever? That explained a lot but nothing. Daniel felt terrible. Worse than terrible, though he wasn't sure what to call that. Confused. Fuzzy. He tried to talk but just ended up sounding like a bagpipe in the hands of an amateur, at least to himself.

"If we don't start getting fluids in him..."

"I know, Carter," Jack said, and unlike Sam's, his voice was clear in Daniel's ears despite the words being spoken very softly.

Daniel noticed for the first time that there was pressure on his right forearm. It felt like a hand. He somehow knew it was Jack's hand. Oh, this was bad, then.

"I know he doesn't have the flu and I know he needs to keep hydrated."

Jack was concerned, and Daniel felt bad about that. He was okay, just tired. He opened his eyes again. The fever explained why his head was off. He always got a little thick when sick. Lyrical, too, apparently. Thick when sick, thick when sick. It was his new mantra. He rhymed.

"I'm awake. I can hear you," Daniel said. "Thick when sick."

Jack and Sam's faces appeared above him, simultaneous and sudden. The expressions they bore were comical to him, in a somewhat inappropriate way. They looked so stunned he had to laugh. Thick when sick. Something wasn't right.

"Hey, where's Teal'c?" he said.

"What does thick when sick mean?" Sam frowned at him.

Daniel heard a maraca shaking out a terrible rhythm. The shup-pishing continued in the distance, and Daniel was reminded of a band again. Mariachi this time.

"Here, take these. They'll help keep your fever in check."

The maraca stopped with one final, big shake. Sam slipped something onto his lips. Pills. They were bitter and he didn't want to take them into his mouth, but he figured Sam knew what she was talking about. Daniel opened up and the bitterness increased as the tablets dissolved until the canteen was tipped to his lips and he swallowed the tablets down. The water felt cool against his throat.

"Head thick." His arm was floppy as he lifted it and waggled his hand by his head once. His arm fell back down to the ground at an awkward angle. "It's hard to, ah, hard to think."

"I'm sorry, Daniel, but I have to ask this. Do you remember touching anything here? Or did you smell something, maybe?"

"Nothing." He hadn't even stopped to smell the flowers. Not that he could, because he hadn't seen any. Not that he would because flowers usually made him sneeze and he didn't make it a habit to do things that would make him miserable. Shup-pish. Teal'c. Shup-pish. Teal'c was still digging, that's where he was. "Found the DHD?"

"Yeah. So you didn't touch anything?" Jack didn't look like he believed him. C'est la vie. "Nothing at all."

"Right." Daniel closed his eyes. They felt hot inside his skull, like they were melting into thick jelly. Thick when sick. "Good."

"Not that good. Sir, I think we're losing him again."

Sam shouldn't talk with a hand over her mouth. He was pretty sure he was tired. Exhausted. Couldn't possibly get enough sleep. Daniel didn't know that his head felt thick so much as it was floaty. He was getting dizzy and he just wanted it to stop.

"Teal'c, tell me you've got that thing uncov..."

~~*~~

There was nothing more he could do, so Teal'c dug. The small hand trowel Daniel Jackson carried in his daypack did not lend for expeditiousness in the task. It had taken him nearly three quarters of an hour to clear half of the dial. O'Neill had provided some assistance, though it had been impeded by inadequate equipment. The large shells they had found on the beach were not effective tools.

"Teal'c, tell me you've got that thing uncovered."

"I have not," Teal'c said. He found himself annoyed at O'Neill's demand. "The layers of earth under the sand are quite compact."

He suspected his ill temper was due to lack of water. He did not want to consider how dehydration was affecting his teammates, especially Daniel Jackson. Teal'c glanced toward the trio and was glad he had not given his canteen to the Wiutehian slum residents. What little fluid his ill friend had received had come from it, but it was not a permanent source. The scant remains of that canteen spurred him to dig harder.

"Yeah, I know." O'Neill joined him once again. "I'm sorry. It's just..."

"Daniel Jackson is ill and it is imperative we make the DHD functional."

"Teal'c, I'm getting dehydrated and my body's not overheating from the inside out."

They ceased speaking and resumed digging. Teal'c maintained a careful eye on O'Neill. Overexertion would only cause another one of them to become ill. That issue should not be much of a concern, considering top of the DHD was nearly exposed. He had an unexpected feeling of apprehension and doubt. He broke the earth up with determination. O'Neill cursed as another shell shattered.

"I'll be right back," O'Neill told him.

Teal'c wiped his forehead clear of sweat and nodded. He glanced toward Captain Carter and Daniel Jackson. Their positions remained the same, though it looked as though Daniel was moving fitfully. He returned his attention to his task, surprised to see there was very little left to do. He shoveled and scraped until there were no obstructions remaining.

"Hey, you're done."

"Indeed," Teal'c said. His mouth felt as though it were full of sand.

"Nice work. Dial it." O'Neill punched him lightly on the arm before padding away. "Carter, let's get him ready to go."

Leaning down into the shallow hole, Teal'c looked for the point of origin symbol. When he had determined it, he began pushing glyphs. The DHD did not activate, nor did the Stargate. It was illogical, but he attempted to dial again. He was disappointed, if not surprised, when the action yielded no results.

"Teal'c, I said to dial home," O'Neill shouted. "What's the holdup?"

"There is a malfunction." He knew it would be a waste of energy to attempt to dial again. Instead, Teal'c moved to join his other three teammates. "The Stargate will not dial."

Captain Carter ceased putting items into her daypack, and her posture reflected what he himself felt inside - trepidation. Though she had remained in the shade, the captain had also not partaken of water. The task of determining the cause and repairing the malfunction would very likely fall to her. Teal'c did not know if she was going to be capable of it. With sufficient hydration and food, she might still have had difficulty. But without? The task would be nearly insurmountable to accomplish.

"It won't dial?"

"I am afraid it will not. Pressing the glyphs elicits no response."

"Wait," Captain Carter said. She frowned at him. Her hand still rested on Daniel's forehead. "Does the DHD have no power or is there a disconnect between it and the 'gate?"

"I am uncertain where the problem lies."

Teal'c gave his attention to O'Neill, expecting immediate direction. O'Neill was not looking at or paying attention to him, but to Daniel. Vocalization was not required to know where O'Neill's mind was traveling as he divided his attention between Daniel and the canteen.

"Nothing surprises me anymore," O'Neill said, clenching his jaw for one second as he assessed the situation. "Okay, new priority. We need to dig out the whole DHD to get to the base so Carter can work on it, but before we do that we need to find a fresh water source."

"I will go," Teal'c said.

"I appreciate the volunteer, but not alone, you won't." O'Neill walked toward their packs, leaning to pick one up. "We don't know what's out there."

Teal'c had not had the opportunity to be at Daniel's side since he had fallen ill. While he waited for O'Neill to ready himself, he stared down at his friend. O'Neill had once told him humans were unique beings. Behavior patterns were not always good indicators of motive or character. Friends sometimes acted like enemies, and enemies as friend. This was something he understood, as it was often this way with Jaffa as well. He found behavior patterns were difficult to assess with Daniel, who was at his best when in motion and stillness boded ill. In this case, the ill was quite literal and it was worrisome.

"Sir," Captain Carter said.

Teal'c looked away from Daniel, watching her scramble to her feet.

"I think I should go with Teal'c."

"Carter, you're the closest thing we have to a medic."

"I don't know what's wrong with Daniel, sir, and you expended more energy digging than I did just sitting here. One sick person is enough to worry about, don't you think? If you go out there and get heat exhaustion - "

"Anh, Carter!" O'Neill said. "You've made your case."

O'Neill breathed deeply and glanced down at the canteen again, then at Daniel Jackson. He smacked his lips together, as if testing the dryness in his mouth ... or unconsciously wishing to take up the canteen.

Teal'c could not blame him. His own tongue yearned to be quenched. He pushed the thought away and retrieved his staff weapon. What Captain Carter said was logical. It did not matter who accompanied him, so long as they found water.

"Okay," O'Neill said at last. He handed his pack to Captain Carter, then reached for his sunglasses. His attention remained on Daniel as he put them on, covering his eyes. "Be careful."

The animal life they had seen was scant and had not been a danger thus far. Teal'c did not believe there was a significant physical threat, though exploring deeper into the jungle might yield just such a thing. That would be a battle for later. The plant life left no question that the planet received ample rainfall, and with rain came natural reservoirs. The existence of both forms of life meant it was only a matter of time and diligence to locate the necessary fresh water. Should they fail, it was also possible they could wait until the next rainfall. He did not think that advisable, for any of them.

"We will, sir. If he wakes up, try to get a little more into him."

A little was all they had. Teal'c did not wish to delay any longer. He began walking slowly, allowing time for Captain Carter to join him. Under normal circumstances, their surroundings were such that his companions would find great enjoyment in exploration. Now, he thought they held a similar view as his - there was only one purpose. While his purpose on every mission was to find means to free his people, this was not his focus now. It could not be.

"So I guess we get to figure out what's out there after all, huh," Captain Carter said as she joined him. She smiled, lopsided and without feeling. "Lucky us."

"We will find what we seek," Teal'c told her, with feeling.

His former duties as First Prime prepared him for a task precisely such as this. He was a hunter as much as he was a warrior. He was adept at locating hidden items. Searching his surrounding for clues of a water source was not so different from seeking humans in concealment. He did not believe he it would be wise to mention this comparison to Captain Carter.

"We have to, Teal'c. Where do we start?"

Teal'c had not expected the deferment to his expertise. O'Neill always assumed control, as was his right. He was glad Captain Carter provided him the opportunity to utilize his strengths. This was not arrogance. He could accomplish the task more quickly than any of his companions. He looked to the trees. The birds that had lit upon them had not come back. He pointed with his staff weapon, indicating the direction they had flown.

"We follow the indigenous species on this planet."

They walked. This time, as he suspected would be the case, Captain Carter did not express enjoyment for the exploration at hand. Teal'c wished their task were not so bleak and necessary, though he knew the yearning was foolish. In his belly, his symbiote warned him he was fast approaching dehydration and that he would need to kel no'reem soon to gain some equilibrium in his body. His own physical needs must wait.

"I've been trying to understand what happened to Daniel," Captain Carter said.

Teal'c kept his attention focused on the flora around them, seeking confirmation this was the route the bird creatures had taken.

"It just doesn't make sense that he'd be the only one to get sick, unless he was sick before he got here."

"Daniel Jackson did not appear unwell before we embarked on our mission," Teal'c said. He located avian fecal matter ahead. They were traveling on the correct course.

"Yeah, he didn't exhibit any symptoms at the SGC. Whatever it was, it hit fast."

"Indeed."

Talking was not a very efficient use of energy, but he knew it was Captain Carter's manner of exercising her thoughts. As long as there was no danger of alerting hostiles, he did not mind hearing her voice. He did indulge in a wish that they were on a standard mission, one in which he would also hear O'Neill and Daniel join in conversation. He shook his head slightly, frustrated by his continuing, futile wishes.

"I'm a little concerned than any one of us could be affected similarly. Just because it didn't manifest in Daniel until we got here doesn't mean there wasn't a contagion on base. So we might have all been exposed to it. It could simply be taking longer for symptoms to show in us."

That would be a very unfortunate occurrence. O'Neill had already expended much of his body's moisture in the effort to unearth the dial home device, and he knew his own body chemistry was being compromised similarly. There was a limit to his infant Goa'uld's healing abilities. If either of them became ill, it was likely they would suffer greatly.

"As much as I don't really care about Bajiar and his people, I really hope we didn't expose the Wiutheians to something dangerous. We can't just go blundering around causing illness on every planet we visit."

"Doctor Fraiser would never allow such a thing to happen."

It remained a valid concern, but one they could not realistically dwell upon. If they did so, the Stargate program would likely cease. It was a moral quandary Teal'c had not witnessed from Apophis, or from nearly all of his Jaffa counterparts. Even if he believed closing down the Stargate for fear of what could happen - a proposal Senator Kinsey had supported intensely - was not the correct course of action, he had to admit it was welcome to see a delineation of morals.

"You're right. What would be the point of having the Stargate and being too afraid of using it?"

Teal'c smiled to himself. Every day with the Tau'ri proved to him he had made the correct decision in joining them, in small ways and in large. Captain Carter had just made an effective demonstration. The vegetation around them was becoming denser, to the point he had to lever some of it out of the way with his staff weapon. It was an encouraging sign.

"I hope we find something soon," Captain Carter said. "I have no idea how long the days are here."

He turned his gaze to the sky and noticed there was now only one sun in it. The end of the daylight hours was very near. He should have realized the natural light had diminished quite some time ago, as the remaining sun kissed the horizon. Teal'c knew he was not infallible. He was, however, embarrassed. He began to hear something which presented him tempered hope.

"I believe we are close, Captain Carter."

The cries of the bird creatures, accompanied by small splashes of water, filled the air. Teal'c glanced at his companion. She did not give indication she also heard, and he knew his heightened hearing was responsible. Still, it pleased him to know they were within easy walking distance now. He chastised himself again for not anticipating nightfall. He did not believe they could make it to the water and back to the beach before light was lost entirely.

"How close?"

"It is not far," Teal'c said, "but I fear it is still too great a distance to traverse during daylight."

"Okay." Captain Carter tilted her head as if attempting to hear the water for herself. She frowned, thumbing her radio. "Carter to O'Neill."

"I read you, Captain."

"Sir, Teal'c says he can hear water but that we won't get to it and back to your position before the second sun sets."

"Do it."

"Sir, we don't -"

"I said do it, Carter," O'Neill said stridently. "Teal'c, you guys won't have a problem finding your way back here in the dark, will you?"

Teal'c frowned down at Captain Carter. She did not disguise her concern well, and this was a blessing to him. O'Neill's responses were sharper than necessary, given that it was customary for a subordinate to seek approval before embarking on a mission.

"We will not," he said into his own radio.

"Sir, what's - "

"O'Neill out."

"- going on?" Captain Carter finished, though she had been dismissed.

Ultimately, Teal'c decided, it did not matter if he and Captain Carter knew the detailed reasons for O'Neill's aggravation. What did matter was obtaining the water and bringing it back to camp in an expeditious manner. He stared at the sun, now half submerged into the horizon.

"Let us make haste, Captain Carter."

"Right behind you," she said.

In the blanketing twilight, they carried forward into the dense underbrush. Their task would become more difficult before it would ease. Teal'c swept aside clinging branches and leaves with renewed vigor. He tried and failed not to think about the number of possible reasons for O'Neill's distraction. None of them were good.

~~*~~

Every time Jack wanted to cave to temptation and take a drink from the canteen, he looked at Daniel. A more effective cure for enticement there could never be. Nearly all the light was gone already, and with it went the warmth. The air was cooling in really short order. He kept one eye on Daniel while he foraged the immediate vicinity for the makings of fire. He felt a fool for handing over virtually every useful item in his pack back on Pwhateveritwas.

"Wasn't my idea. Remember that, Daniel?" he mumbled. "I didn't even think we should have brought our packs on that little jaunt. That was your idea, and so was giving away all of our stuff. Now we're stuck here with no food and no water. You know this is going on your permanent record, right? File under: Stupid Things Daniel's Done."

He didn't know why he bothered talking. Daniel couldn't hear him and even if he could, it wasn't Daniel's job to make final decisions. It was his and his alone. He sighed. Verbally beating either one of them up about errors in judgment was a fruitless use of his energy at this point. What was done was so very much done, and no one could have predicted the result.

He sure as hell had no clue why Bajiar hadn't simply let them go home. It seemed an extreme measure to ship off anyone who discovered Wiutehian dirty laundry to some far away land in order to prevent word from spreading. At least Jack suspected that was the actual reason, and it galled him. He thought humans on Earth were a bunch of self-absorbed idiots, in each other's business when there was no reason to be. If Bajiar knew how little he really cared ... but it hadn't really been him. No, showing emotion had fallen on Daniel. Finally, something he could assign blame about.

"You wouldn't have let it go. I saw the way Bajiar wanted to spit in your face back there. You've got quite a sphere of influence, there."

Jack grunted, tugging at a dead vine. It wouldn't budge. After a minute, he gave up. His muscles protested lack of hydration, and damn if he just didn't care about working any harder at the task. He'd make do with what he had, measly pile of sticks that it was. He trudged back over toward Daniel's prone figure, scowling at the DHD. It was so pissing useless he thought that if he had any urine left in his body, that's precisely what he would do all over it.

He plopped down next to Daniel, who remained uncannily still. He'd deny it to the grave, but what he really wanted right about now was for Daniel to talk. Didn't matter what, just so long as he was up and around and active. Jack swallowed, even though there was no saliva in his mouth. He reached for the canteen. Carter was right. It wouldn't be good for any of the rest of them to get sick, and he needed water.

"Just a little," he said, and he tipped the canteen to his lips.

There was just a little in there, as it turned out. One swallow, maybe two, and he had consumed the last of their reasonably fresh, uncontaminated water. It was good to feel something other than a thick tongue in his mouth. For a brief moment, that was justification, but then ... then came regret. Jack glanced at Daniel, half expecting him to be awake, begging for just a little water without even saying anything at all. A simple glance would do Jack in, but there was continued to be no movement. Funny, he'd even take recrimination right about now.

There was no sense in crying over water already drank. He couldn't put it back. He couldn't stop the guilt. He arranged the sparse kindling and took a match to it. He hoped he could keep the fire going until Carter and Teal'c got back with more water, when they could go for more combustible wood without leaving Daniel unattended. He looked at his sleeping companion again, reaching over and taking the damp bandana from his forehead. It actually wasn't damp anymore, dried from the heat of Daniel's body. The half shell that had housed seawater was also dry.

"I'll be right back," he said, gaining some small comfort in pretending Daniel could hear him.

He grabbed the shell, stood and clicked on his vest flashlight. The beam was a bright ribbon, cutting into the blue of dusk. He could have made it to the edge of the damnably salty water and back without the benefit of artificial light, but he wasn't willing to take the chance. Here there be monsters or something like that. Jack wasn't about to fall for pretty faades again, even if they'd been here hours without incident. For all he knew, the big bad monsters didn't come out until night. It was a thought that only served to worry him about leaving Daniel alone even for a short time, and that Carter and Teal'c were out there in the fast approaching dark.

The water lapped onto sand, no threat imminent. He crouched down and stuck his hands in the water, soaking the bandana and filling the shell. He still felt sticky from the afternoon's exertions. He put the shell down for a second so he could swipe the bandana over his face, then dunk it into the water again to rinse off his sweat. He slopped it back into the shell and stood. He moved back to the small camp.

He saw it before he had traveled three steps, but dismissed it as an illusion of twilight and heavy foliage. Then movement shadowed in front of the fire, and Jack dropped everything so he could pull his handgun - he'd, damnit, left the MP-5 just sitting there - as he started to trot.

"Hey!" he shouted.

He'd seen the birds before from a distance, but he hadn't really paid attention to them. Now, up close and personal, he saw they were fierce, nearly featherless things. They didn't seem fazed by him yelling, but they also didn't seem to be threatening in any major way. One hopped closer to Daniel. Jack took aim at it, raising his voice in warning again. It turned its strange, bony head toward him, eyes reflecting fluorescent from the flashlight.

Disconcerted, Jack faltered and came to a brief stop. He knew the water's edge couldn't be more than twenty paces from the bivouac site, yet it was taking him forever to get back there. The bird thing closest to Daniel screeched once, head tipped back and beak agape. It sent a chill down his spine. He started running again, watching it duck its head toward Daniel. For one horrifying moment, Jack thought the thing was going to clamp its huge jaws on his friend's still form.

He pressed the trigger lightly, but before he got a shot off, the birds just ... flew away. Heart racing, he holstered his gun and dropped down next to Daniel. After conducting a rapid visual scan, he couldn't see anything wrong - no cuts, no bruises, no thread of cloth disturbed. What the hell? It was only upon his perusal of the campsite did he realize it: while the ringleader had distracted him, his cohorts had snagged Carter and Daniel's packs. And his weapon.

"Goddamnit," Jack said. It wasn't a huge loss, just another ding that happened to leave him and Daniel without any resources. So, yeah, it was a huge loss. "At least they weren't hostile, huh?"

Might as well have been. There was no telling how long Carter and Teal'c would be on their water-finding mission, and the gravity of their pack-less situation weighed on him. The fire crackled and popped pitifully, fading to embers. He was doing a bang up job here. At least he could still try to keep the fever in check with ... the bandana that he'd dropped somewhere along the way.

"Son of a bitch."

His skin prickled. He squinted up to the tops of the trees, finding them indistinct and shadowy. He couldn't tell if the birds had flown up there and were waiting for him to stray again. Not that there was anything more for them to take, besides Daniel. Okay, that was a creepy thought. Jack decided the night air would do well enough for keeping Daniel cool, and that the bandana could stay lost until at least one sun rose. And if the fire went out because he'd been too damn foolish to collect enough ... actually, they should have been prepped for that before Carter and Teal'c even left.

"I'm oh for what? Four? Rest assured, your permanent record is going to be just fine, Daniel. It's mine that'll bear the marks."

Damnit, Jack didn't like to admit it, but he hated when he was left alone on a mission quickly going down the spiral. It gave him too much time to contemplate his navel, and his navel was very linty. He didn't know when he had allowed himself to be the master of doom, because he knew he hadn't always been such a sniveling sap.

"But I should get over myself, right?" Daniel didn't answer, just like he hadn't for hours now. "Right. Let's see how you're doing for a happy change of pace."

The change of pace wasn't a good one, and that didn't surprise him either. Damnit, Daniel was cooking from the inside out, on a slow burn. He frowned. He was no medical expert but he thought delirium went hand in hand with fevers as high as he could tell Daniel's was. It figured; Daniel couldn't even act normal while sick. Instead of rolling around restlessly, Daniel was too still.

"Shit."

God help them if there were fish as big and ugly in the water as the birds in the trees were, because into the deep blue sea they were going. No thinking allowed. Thinking bad. Jack had just re-established that. Twenty steps with a dead weight were going to be no picnic, though. It would be easier to drag Daniel than to lift him to the shoulders, so Jack wrestled the limp man into a sagging, seated position and wrapped his arms around Daniel's chest in a strange embrace.

"Oof," Jack said as he faltered his way to his feet. "You're heavier than you look, boy."

Once standing, he steered toward the water and scuttled backward through the sand. Heat seeped from Daniel into him, chasing away any chill he felt. A burst of static from his radio made him jump. He almost lost his grip on Daniel and was struggling not to do just that when Carter's tinny voice came through.

"Carter to O'Neill."

He was so close, so close, but he couldn't respond and keep shuffling at the same time. He stopped, shifting so most of Daniel's weight was on his right side. He thumbed the radio's switch.

"I read you, Captain."

"Sir, Teal'c says he can hear water but that we won't get to it and back to your position before the second sun sets."

It was already pretty much set here, which meant Carter and Teal'c were a fair distance away. He managed a look at his watch, surprised to learn he'd been stewing in his own juices and otherwise making stupid errors for a couple of hours. Jack thought about the dirty trick the birds had pulled on him, but knew he could count on Teal'c to be far more alert.

"Do it."

"Sir, we don't -"

Daniel started sliding out of his tentative hold.

"I said do it, Carter," he snapped, listing right along with Daniel. "Teal'c, you guys won't have a problem finding your way back here in the dark, will you?"

"We will not," Teal'c confirmed.

"Sir, what's - "

No time for this.

"O'Neill out."

He devoted both hands to Daniel once more, cursing under his breath. The muscles of his lower back complained. All of his muscles, actually, were taxed from the day's digging and absence of fluid. Couple that with Mr. Spaghetti and it was calamity in the making. Daniel slid down to the ground, and Jack followed, tripping and landing on top. His face planted directly into the fine sand. Breathing it in through his mouth did little to help the dryness already there. He coughed it out and gingerly disentangled himself from Daniel. He was glad there hadn't been anyone around to witness that. The birds were indeed still around, and they laughed at him from atop the trees.

"Bite me," he said.

On the plus side, the flashlight beam landed right on a sodden, sandy clump of cloth. The bandana wouldn't do much while he and Daniel swam in the shallow shoreline, but it was a victory he wouldn't scoff at. He shook off the indignity of falling on his face and clambered the rest of the way off Daniel. Despite the excitement of the last few minutes, Daniel still was unresponsive.

"Okay, big guy, let's get back on track."

He stared down, considering for seven seconds and deciding it wasn't necessary to strip off any more of Daniel's clothes. Jack arranged his friend carefully, and then shucked his own boots. He snatched up the dirty head rag and rinsed it out quickly. He took off his vest and piled it on top of his boots, arranging it so the flashlight aimed on Daniel. With the light on it should be easier to keep an eye on his stuff, keep it from getting filched by scavengers.

The flashlight, though, didn't give much illumination, and he wished he didn't have to tread unknown waters in the dark. It unnerved him that night had set in very quickly, and he hoped it wasn't a long one. His stomach rumbled. The scant bit of water he'd drunk had done little to ease his growing hunger. If only they had known digging for the DHD was a monumental waste of time. If only they'd checked out their locale. If only ... whatever. Jack unholstered his gun and maneuvered Daniel into the water, pushing him with his feet.

"Damn, that's cold."

The water licked at this toes. He should have taken his socks off. Oh, well, too late now. The whole nudging Daniel with his feet thing wasn't really working, so Jack crouched down. He wrestled Daniel into a limp seated position and insinuated his arms underneath Daniel's again. Plopping down on his ass, he snaked his arms around Daniel's chest and his legs around Daniel's lower half. He let his friend rest against his chest, trying to get comfortable with a 180-pound dead weight between his legs.

It didn't really work too well. His lower back twinged. He switched to a one armed hold on Daniel, keeping his gun at the ready as he leaned back and rested on his other elbow. Not a permanent solution, but actually doable for the time being. Cold water numbed his legs, while Daniel's heat radiated into his arms and chest. Jack sighed and scooted deeper into the sea, trying to immerse Daniel as much as he could.

"This had better work. I don't want to spend the whole night here."

But he would. Daniel knew that, or he would if he were awake. Jack wasn't even sure why he was carrying on with the sarcasm and jibes. There was no need to keep himself in check when he was the only one here to hear anything. Maybe he didn't particularly want to hear himself saying what he really felt. It wouldn't do any more good to acknowledge that fear had a hold on his insides, and had for hours, than it was to bitch and moan.

"Even so," he said, "I gotta tell you I'm concerned."

Yeah, he was really letting loose now. Jack looked down at the top of Daniel's head. The water lapped around them softly. If not for the circumstances, this would actually be a decent place to be. He started to shiver, though, as the chill increased.

"Hey, that's actually kind of a good thing, right? For you, being cold is the optimum result here."

Jack sat up again, hoping he was right. A fumbling hand to Daniel's forehead revealed the fever still raged. Not truly a surprise, since they'd only been soaking for a few minutes, but still a disappointment. He eased back down and glanced up at the sky. The stars were starting to come out. He wondered if there was going to be a moon or not, and really hoped there was. Moonless planets were unsettling.

He watched the water, pretty sure they didn't have anything to worry about. They weren't in deep enough. He figured if they stayed on the shallow side they'd be fine. Sort of. He'd be fine, anyway. Jack jostled around a little bit, groping for his vest. He couldn't reach it. That was okay, because it wasn't a great idea to use it as a pillow anyway. Too many lumps and he really didn't want it to get wet. The water tickled against his numbing skin, and damn he wanted to drink some. He shook his head, closing his eyes. He opened them and saw a sliver of light on the horizon.

"Look, Daniel, we've got moonrise."

The sliver quickly turned into a wedge, then a semicircle. It was stunning to watch the glowing orb rise over near-black, shimmering water. Jack lost himself in it a bit, glad for the distraction. The moon was enormous. It illuminated the night sky so that visibility was actually better than it had been at dusk. Crisper, but washed by the color of the moon.

"Moon river, wider than a mile," he chanted. Jack might just have developed the delirium Daniel was supposed to have. "La-la-la-lala. I don't really know the words. Oh, I should stop trying..."

"Ungh."

"When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's amore," Jack sang, switching tunes.

Mmmm, pizza. Jack was much more confident about the lyrics of this one, but why were songs relating to the moon always about love? He stared at the near full moon and figured it was actually kind of appropriate. If he were still with Sara, a place like this would be right up her alley. It would hit every romantic note. He thought Daniel would probably like to bring Sha're here when they found her. Too bad they didn't really know the address of this place. Oh, yeah, and too bad that it was a one-way trip.

"Ungh."

The guttural sound finally registered in his ears. He sat up so abruptly he got lightheaded. Daniel slumped down, and Jack barely caught him before he went head first into the water. Daniel didn't feel awake, still heavy and limp.

"Daniel?" He shook ... no, Daniel had started to shake. "Hey."

"Jack," Daniel said, almost as quiet as the lapping waves. "Wuh, why am I so cold?"

"Cold?" Jack said. "You're cold? That's great."

"What?"

"What?" Daniel was cold. God, Jack hoped that meant the fever had broken at last. "I mean..."

"Jack, what are we doing in the water?" Daniel coughed, dry and raspy. "Actually, I could use some."

Elation to crap in half a second flat. That had to be some kind of record.

"Sorry, Danny, can't drink this stuff."

"Ungh," Daniel said.

Jack agreed, but couldn't dwell. He'd done too much dwelling already. He also didn't want to tell Daniel that there wasn't any other water to drink.

"Let's get out of here. Think you can stand?"

"Uhm."

Apparently Daniel had to think about it, which screamed bad sign to him. Jack rubbed Daniel's shoulder, encouragement or to help with the chill.

"No. Jack, I can't, uh, I can't feel my legs."

"The water's pretty cold, I can't really feel mine, either." Jack gave Daniel's shoulder one more pat and then started fishing his legs around, prepping to stand up. He set the gun down in the sand, wincing on the inside at the thought of cleaning all the crud out of it later. "C'mon, I'll help."

"No, Jack, you don't understand," Daniel said, sounding panicked. "I really can't feel my legs at all."

Ah, shit.

~~*~~

It Is Not Far couldn't have the same definition for Teal'c as it had for her. Sam should have figured that when she couldn't hear the water he claimed was close, but she hadn't and so there she was, three miles and sixty minutes later, still tromping through dense shrubbery. She was afraid she still didn't hear any water. She was hot, thirsty and getting weaker by the minute.

Sam brushed a clump of bangs off her forehead and stared up at the moon. The transition between dusk and night had happened very quickly. Unlike the first sun setting without them even noticing, the second fairly dropped below the horizon. They were really lucky the moon was large and luminous. It was a small comfort, for as difficult as it had been to traverse through thick foliage in daylight, it was tenfold that doing it under the faint orange tint of the moon's glow.

"Are we there yet?" she said, not meaning to sound petulant and whiny but managing just the same.

"We are not."

Damn. She knew what the answer was going to be before Teal'c responded, but it still sucked to hear. Sam needed water so much her mouth felt thick, her tongue about twice its natural size. She considered the leaves of the trees - not for the first time - and wondered if they held any moisture. She wasn't above stuffing a couple in her mouth and munching away like a koala with eucalyptus.

"Yeah, I figured," Sam said.

To tell the truth, she probably wouldn't have noticed how long their journey was taking if Teal'c were more verbose. She knew refraining from speech helped maintain some small amount of moisture, and she didn't like constant chatter any more than the colonel did, but she really thought Teal'c should know sometimes a response could be more than three words long. The colonel would know how to deal with Teal'c's reticence. The colonel...

"Do you think the colonel and Daniel are okay?" Sam said.

"There is no way to be certain, but I have confidence."

There was a way to be certain, though. Her hand had gone to her radio no less than five times in the past hour, always prevented from calling out by the colonel's "Do it, Carter" and "O'Neill out" playing in her head. She had to believe her commanding officer would raise them if and when he was ready, and any distraction from their end wouldn't be well received. The temptation was still ever present, though, and was another unsubtle form of torture. It was almost as bad as battling clinging vines. In the dark.

"I'll just borrow some of that confidence from you, if you don't mind."

Sam shook her head. The real reason she'd love more conversation with Teal'c is so that her thoughts wouldn't wander onto things she had no control over. Ironically, she seemed to have no control over that, either, so she concentrated on the task at hand. Thank goodness Teal'c was doing most of the work clearing a path. The guy was a machine, but even he was slowing down. She chewed her lip for a second, which proved a very bad idea. Her vest contained lip balm, of course. It just didn't do a whole lot to help.

"Are we there yet?"

"No."

She actually had no idea why she was pulling the adolescent whining routine. Spending nearly every minute of her life with SG-1 was in some way taking a toll on her if the colonel was rubbing off so much. Maybe if ... when they got back home, she'd have to work on getting a social life. Maybe.

"Are you sure we're not there yet?"

"No."

"Shoot. Wait, does no mean you're not sure, so we're close?"

"We are here."

Huh. She should be able to hear the water by now, Sam thought. There was still absolute stillness beyond their own rustling through the greenery. She gave Teal'c a quizzical frown and noticed she could see his face more clearly than she had since moonrise. She glanced up. The canopy above was thinner. She could see a spot not more than fifty feet away where there was a significant break.

"Thank goodness."

The foliage wasn't nearly as substantial here either, of course. Teal'c moved easily, and Sam swore he looked relieved. She could smell the water in the air now, along with something she couldn't quite pinpoint. If she had any saliva left, she would have drooled from the mere proximity of liquid. Gross. She closed her eyes, a stupid move.

"Oof," she said as ran smack into Teal'c's back. Whoa, his glutes felt as impressive as they looked. There was something wrong with her. Why she chose now, in this place, to start obsessing about her teammates' good looks was beyond her. She blushed, the tips of her ears getting really warm. "Oops, sorry."

Teal'c held up a hand, not speaking. Sam frowned and started to brush by him, stopped when the raised hand reached down and latched onto her forearm. Her frown deepened, but he continued his silence, tipping his head toward the water. She looked, already knowing what to expect. Water. That's exactly what she got - a small pool of water, surface still and reflecting the orange of the moon. It was quite beautiful, and no reason to freeze in her tracks. She started looking back to Teal'c when she saw it and holy shit.

"Whoa, how many of them do you think there are?"

Their camouflage was amazing. Sam had never not-seen anything like it. Surrounding the entire boundary of the lake were vast numbers of the birds they had seen earlier. It seemed like the watering hole was the nocturnal resting place for every single creature on the planet, or at least the immediate area surrounding the Stargate. All of them stood with their backs to the water, looking almost like sentries. The only thing they could be guarding against was SG-1.

"I have counted eighty-three. I do not believe it necessary to continue," Teal'c said quietly.

There were more in the trees, Sam realized, lining branch after branch. She had to admit it was a little creepy, like they had suddenly joined a Hitchcock movie in progress. She kept a wary eye on the birds, and she swore at least fifty of them looked directly at her.

"I think our job just got a bit more complicated."

"You do not exaggerate."

She and Teal'c couldn't just go in with guns blazing. For one thing, the birds hadn't done anything to provoke such violence and, for another, they looked very powerful creatures. Well, those things, plus there was a distinct disadvantage in number. They'd be overpowered in less than a minute, weapons or no weapons; it would probably happen in less than ten seconds.

"Any ideas?"

"Not at the moment."

"Maybe we could just ask them nicely."

Assuming they understood English. Non-English communication was Daniel's forte, not hers. Daniel. They didn't have time to mess around with a bunch of birds. Sam didn't even want to think about how the sheer number of them could contaminate the water beyond human use and what they might have already done in the water. It was a small comfort to note none of them were actually in the lake now. With a dearth of other options, Sam decided it couldn't hurt to try the hands in the air, peaceful travelers bit. She started easing past Teal'c.

She stopped when several more of the birds swooped down, seemingly from nowhere, bearing large bundles in their massive talons. She watched them drop their loads, then land in the only open space along the shoreline. It didn't take long to discern the shapes.

"Oh, no."

She thought she understood part of the reason for the colonel's earlier aggravation. At least she hoped the fact that the birds had managed to snag two SGC regulation daypacks and two vests, complete with radios, was the reason. Anything more extreme than thievery was not something she wanted to think about, and now had no means to learn. Oh, she thought dully, there was the colonel's MP-5 as well. The colonel was not careless with his weapon.

"It would seem we have underestimated the life on this planet."

As in, they'd not even considered it a threat, which was the only way Sam knew how to interpret the overture that had just been displayed - a threat. The birds had just let them know that they had the colonel and Daniel targeted as tools to use to their advantage - whatever that might mean - in what was looking to be a standoff. One misstep on her and Teal'c's part could have the birds sending a flock of them back to their defenseless teammates.

It bothered her a great deal that they hadn't heard gunfire or anything. They weren't so far away that they wouldn't have, and the colonel wouldn't have just let their scant remaining equipment be taken without some type of fight. Sam's mind raced with the implications, and worry for both his and Daniel's condition.

"Oh, I'd say so," Sam said. She retreated a step. "Got any ideas yet?"

"No."

Crap, they were at such a disadvantage. The birds had apparently been gathering enough intel on SG-1 to determine they needed to protect the fresh water source, and what Sam really wanted to do was hike it back to the colonel and Daniel. She just didn't know if they had the time to do it or, worse, if the situation was so bad it wasn't as vital anymore. That meant only one thing to her, and it wasn't something she should be thinking about. She needed to stay focused on the situation at hand.

"We're clearly outnumbered. Even with firepower, we'd be overrun in short order," Sam said. "Looking for a gap in their lines is out, because we can see there is no gap."

"Indeed."

Big help from the warrior. Sam clenched her jaw. She was starting to think the only real option they had was the one she had almost tried. As long as they weren't aggressive, things couldn't get worse. She hoped this was all a big misunderstanding, though she admitted she couldn't fathom how it had happened. Nothing SG-1 had done since arriving here could be construed as hostile. All they had done was dig a hole in the sand, which wasn't a capital offense. Unless it was for some crazy reason.

"Hold my weapon while I go try to talk to them."

"Do you believe that wise, Captain Carter?" Teal'c said. Nonetheless, he took her MP-5 once Sam lifted it from around her shoulder.

No, no she didn't.

"I don't like it, but I know you've got my back."

"I do indeed."

She patted Teal'c on the arm and stepped out of the brush, onto the edge of the clearing. The whole situation was starting to make her uneasy. The birds were more like dinosaurs than birds, she thought as she crept closer with raised hands. She would never tell anyone this, but Jurassic Park had really freaked her out, and now she felt more like she was in that movie than in a Hitchcock one. It did nothing for her confidence. If she had had any sweat left, she would probably be doing so profusely.

Now that she had a more unobstructed view, Sam saw the creatures were much more massive than she'd thought. They towered over her. They'd tower over Teal'c, she thought. They didn't move, but she felt countless sets of eyes watching her every move. The tension in the air was tangible. She felt like she needed to walk on eggshells. The dirt crunched beneath her feet. She glanced down. The ground was littered with thin, jagged pieces that were stark white against the dark earth. She was walking on eggshells.

A lot of eggshells. She narrowed her eyes and looked back up. The creatures looked more intense and menacing than ever, pulling themselves up even taller. She was close enough to see intelligence in their eyes, but doubted they were going to speak in any language she'd understand. An ornithologist might, maybe. Or Daniel, somehow, for all she knew. She was not confident about this on any front and, coupled with the very intimidating looming, she nearly decided to retreat.

"Hello," she said instead.

One of the creatures squawked, but that was it. No aggressive moves followed, though it did look slowly down to the scavenged packs and then back up to her. It was a dare, Sam thought, amazed at how much communication was nonverbal. The thing she didn't know was if she was interpreting things correctly. There might not be any intent behind the gesture at all. She doubted that.

"So, ah, it looks like you have something we want." Sam's mouth was dry and she was so close to the water. "Need. You have something we need. I also need to know what it's going to take to get it."

She felt foolish. She made herself take another small step forward, wincing at the loud crackle of eggshells beneath her feet. Sam looked down at the ground again, noticing the number of remnants increased closer to the water's edge. She frowned and glanced toward Teal'c.

"Something's not right."

Yeah, so that was beyond obvious. Teal'c nodded at her. Sam moved another shuffling step. It proved to be the proverbial line in the sand, and the creatures were raucous with disapproval. Harsh cries filled the night air, with an undertone of wings being flapped and jaws snapping. There was no almost about it this time - she turned and hurried back to the bare amount of cover the bushes provided.

"What the hell," Sam muttered, snatching her weapon back from Teal'c. "If they're angry, why aren't they attacking?"

"Perhaps they strive for peaceful means of resolution."

"But we're not fighting them."

"It is something else," Teal'c said.

Teal'c knew what that something was, Sam could hear it in his voice. She tipped her head toward him and widened her eyes. In answer, he pointed. She followed his mark, and understood what he meant immediately.

~~*~~

"So, Carter and Teal'c should be back by morning with water," Jack said. Wheezed, really. "It won't be long."

This sucked. For all his linguistic skill and knowledge, Daniel couldn't think of a phrase more appropriate to the situation than that. From his vantage point, the world consisted of drab BDU olive and black, with tiny glimpses of strange colored sand. He was less concerned with Teal'c and Sam's arrival than with when he could be put down. Being carried around like a sack of potatoes was humiliating, and he was no lightweight. He had so hoped the lack of feeling in his legs was a temporary thing, a result of cold as Jack had suggested. The upper half of his body was cold. The lower half, it was just dead and heavy. He tried to keep his arms and torso tensed, for what little aid that would give Jack.

"Good," Daniel said.

Jack stopped staggering at last, but for some reason Daniel thought they were still moving. There was slight warmth coming from his left. Fire? He moved his head to try to look but that only caused Jack to stagger some more.

"I should have dragged you like I did before," Jack said.

"You dragged me?" Daniel said, then considered for a moment. "That might have been easier."

"Yeah."

Jack seemed to be barely hanging onto his balance. The swaying increased and Jack took a sliding step away from the smoldering fire. Daniel noticed right away how much warmth the embers were putting out when he was no longer so near to it.

"Okay," Jack said, starting to ease him down.

Ease turned into awkward grope and drop. Daniel tried to withhold a groan of his own, but Jack probably wouldn't have heard it anyway. They both sounded like a couple of dying bagpipes for a second, and then Daniel was sprawled on his back with a fabulous view of the night sky. He started to shiver immediately, the dampness bleeding away any of the body heat he and Jack had shared, turning into chill. He wondered if his leg were as cold as the rest of him. Probably didn't matter so much. It only made him refocus on that alarming new disability.

"Hey, sorry for the rough landing. You okay?"

Not so much. Daniel squinted at Jack, and knew right away Jack already knew the truth. He decided it was better not to openly acknowledge what was a useless-legged elephant on the beach anyway.

"Yeah, you?"

"Tired."

"I'll bet," Daniel said. He shivered some more, struck by memories of being too hot. Of the extremes, it was difficult to tell which was worse. "You don't happen to have a jacket or vest handy, do you?"

"Damn, it is cold."

"Yes, it is." His teeth might have actually chattered, one more thing to be embarrassed about. Only there was no shame in being cold, so that didn't make much sense. "Very."

"I left my vest by the water. Be right back."

Jack got up and walked away from him. Daniel managed to turn his head to the side, twisting twisted his neck a little to see the pitiful excuse of a fire. He also saw a sturdy stick lying next to it, a tool to stir it up. He was so cold it seemed a good idea to try to wiggle over to see if he could get the embers to spark a bit more. He did get a hold on the stick, but maneuvering it around the fire, which was further away than he'd thought, proved to be beyond his capability.

Daniel gave up, tossing the stick down. The shivers continued to increase. He stared up at the mandarin-orange moon, trying to sort out the information Jack had shared and trying not to think about how thirsty and cold he was. He closed his eyes, exhausted despite having been (apparently) unconscious for a good long while. The moon's rays were bright enough to color his vision even with eyes shut, as if painting the backs of his eyelids. So he noticed when a dark shadow passed over him. The thing was, he should have noticed more than that. Way more. Like the gigantic thing on top of him.

"Oh, Jack?" he said.

No sound was actually produced in the effort to speak, which he figured was more a good thing than not. There was no telling what effect that would have had on the creature sitting on his legs. Daniel had thought Jack was exaggerating about the size and description, but he was a believer now. It had the wings of a bird and the jaws ... beak? ... of a dinosaur. Maybe it was his hazy vision, but he didn't think it was really a bird at all. He crazily hoped that the creature was light like most birds were, though, because even if he couldn't feel his legs, they could still get damaged.

"Shit," he heard Jack say, still far away, close to the water.

No kidding, Daniel agreed in his head. He was right there with that sentiment. Any movement he made could cause the creature to attack, though it hadn't exhibited anything more aggressive than landing on him in the first place. He lifted his head and glanced down, checking on the size of the talons and whether they were digging into his legs. He couldn't really tell.

"Jack," he repeated, and this time his voice worked. "Would you mind coming here, please?"

The creature bird thing leaned closer. Daniel put his head back down. It wasn't likely he could look any more defenseless than he actually was. For several seconds, he felt as if he was having an involuntary staring contest. A bird its size would have a brain about the size of a softball with the functional level of a golf ball-sized, yet Daniel read acute intelligence in the yellow eyes gazing at him. It was checking him out for something. He hoped it wasn't thinking about making him dinner, or a midnight snack. He swallowed, his mouth even more dry than it had been a second ago.

"They got most of our other st - whoa," Jack said.

Grains of sand hit his face and arms as Jack skidded to a stop, back from the beach at last. Daniel broke from the staring contest to look at Jack, who raised his arms up like he was going to engage in a boxing match with a creature way, way, way bigger than him. He didn't move, but then he didn't have to. The bird took off, jostling Daniel slightly. He was hit with a surge of adrenaline prickliness and heat, but then he immediately got the goosebumps.

"Damnit."

Jack knelt over him, first doing a visual check before patting down his legs. Apparently the search didn't yield bad news, as Jack leaned back with a long breath after only a minute. Not much they could have done if the bird had somehow inflicted damage, anyway, not without their gear. Daniel started breathing quickly, and shivering again.

"You know what you said about things not going well?" Jack said. "Understatement."

"I'm getting that." His teeth chattered. He took several deep breaths, trying very hard to calm himself down and be rational. "And those things are big."

"You think?"

"Very big," Daniel said. "I assume I'm okay."

"That thing might have left bruises, but its claws didn't break through the cloth." Jack gave him a half-hearted smile, turning is attention to the fire then. "They got everything else. Most of everything else, I mean. They let us keep this."

'This' was a sandy, wet lump of cloth. Daniel squinted at it just to make sure he was seeing it right, as Jack was holding it like it was very important.

"Okay," he said, "Well, that was nice of them."

Not really, of course. Daniel was very aware that their only means to contact Sam and Teal'c was now gone. He didn't doubt they'd deliver the water as they said they would, but he couldn't help but be worried. There was no telling what was going on with them; if the birds had left both he and Jack as crippled as Daniel actually was, they could be doing the same thing to the others right now. If it hadn't already happened. He envisioned Jack severing radio contact to take care of him, kind of a 'don't call me, I'll call you' kind of thing.

"Very sweet, yes," Jack said.

The fire popped once. Finally, Daniel started to feel its warmth increase. He watched Jack make several furtive glances out into the dark foliage. He was probably considering going for more wood, and then reconsidering because of him.

"We're sitting ducks out here. More than we were already."

"It didn't hurt me, Jack, and it could have." Easily. He shuddered again. He hoped Jack hadn't seen him. It didn't look like Jack needed the extra guilt. "There has to be a reason it didn't. There has to be a reason there was only one of them."

Jack looked like he wanted to argue but couldn't come up with anything to say. Daniel didn't blame him. He felt a little lucky to have been out of it for so long - he didn't like feeling like he wasn't in control any more than Jack didn't. The muscles he could feel shook with exhaustion, and he immediately reneged on that thought. He wasn't so lucky at all.

"Maybe. I don't know."

"You should get more stuff to burn. I'll be fine here. That's what I meant to say."

"Oh."

The truth was, and he'd never admit it, Daniel didn't exactly relish the idea of being left alone and defenseless, even for a few minutes. He was well aware that just because it had worked out one time that another time would mirror that experience. He could still feel those cold, intelligent eyes boring into him.

"I'll be quick."

"Do," Daniel said, a little too hurriedly.

Jack nodded once before he took off again. Daniel soon heard the rustle and snap of branches. He took comfort in the sounds and focused his ears on them while he focused his eyes on the huge moon. The shelter he was partially under was starting to obscure the view, so he nudged himself out from under it and closer to the fire. He was still cool. His legs dragged woodenly. He pounded a fist against his left thigh, hoping to feel it, or just lashing out in frustration. He wished he knew why he was stuck like this.

His thought process skittered and derailed when, out of the sky, something heavy and wet landed on his chest. The fire sizzled. Daniel cried out in surprise. He drew in panicky breaths again, something happening way too regularly. He hated panic. He heard the flap of wings and saw a large shadow overhead, but was too busy trying to assess his own chest to pay attention to that particular danger.

"Daniel?" Jack called, and Daniel became aware of more sounds - Jack crashing through the underbrush the most welcome of those. "You okay?"

There was nothing on him. The heaviness was gone, leaving only a wet stain that replaced the one that had barely begun to dry. Daniel was confused. He jumped as a strange-looking bundle landed next to him, with a loud plopping sound. He blinked a couple of times, not sure he could believe what he was seeing. He squinted and frowned, and then remembered Jack had asked him a question.

"I'm okay."

"Holy cow."

They were being dive-bombed, that was all Daniel could think. It was better than being shat upon, which is what the wetness on his chest reminded him of. Daniel squirmed a little. Maybe he had been shat upon. No, there it was. Thank goodness. He didn't need another bad thing to happen to him, he thought. But then just as quickly as the attack had begun, it was over. Not really dive-bombing, he corrected. Only one thing had landed, the rest was just fallout.

"What was that all about?" Jack said.

Daniel looked up at him.

"I just can't leave you alone for a second, can I?"

"Apparently not," Daniel said with a nervous chuckle. "What lan ... something landed on me."

"Lucky for you this didn't." Jack picked up Teal'c's canteen. There was no stopper on it, so when Jack jiggled it a little, something sloshed out. "I think they gave us..."

"Water." Daniel felt his T-shirt. It wasn't sticky. It wasn't smelly. It wasn't shit. "They gave us water?"

"That makes no sense."

"Who cares?" Daniel thought he would cry if only he had the tears. He didn't want to think about whys and hows just this once. "Do you think it's safe?"

"We don't have much other choice right now," Jack said, shrugging. "Dehydration now versus massive amounts of antibiotics later; seems like a pretty even trade."

In reality, they could probably get by for another day or so without water if they had to. But they didn't have to. Thank goodness.

"Give," Daniel said. He could taste it already. "I don't care how many needles Doctor Fraiser sticks in me when we get back."

"Don't worry, I won't tell her you said that."

Jack held up a hand when Daniel beckoned for the water. Of course. Team leader first, to test for ill effects. Daniel watched Jack tip the water to his lips and take a swallow. Now that it was so close, he didn't know if he could stand it for another minute. They both sat silently, though, waiting for something to happen. Nothing did.

"It tastes all right, at least," Jack said. "Here, lean up."

He propped himself on one elbow and took the canteen. Jack made to give him help, but he waved his hand. Even weak and shaky, Daniel thought himself quite capable of drinking on his own. Mostly. Water dribbled down his chin and neck. He didn't really care. He did care when Jack pulled the canteen away from him very easily.

"I know you're thirsty, but this is all we have and you need to take it slow."

Jack was right, of course. Daniel pouted anyway. Just the little bit he'd managed before being cut off helped with the desert feel in his mouth. It might be better to limit the intake of untreated water from a strange planet anyway.

"Okay," he said, then yawned.

"You should get some rest." Jack put a hand to his forehead, then his left cheek. "You're getting warm again, I think."

"What about you?"

"I'll rest when we get home, Daniel," Jack said, poking the fire with a large stick. "But for now, I need to keep an eye out for Carter and Teal'c."

And guard against those big things. Daniel felt like an idiot, but he didn't know what to call them even in his head. He wondered if Jack had a plan in case the creatures came back, with less than generous intent.

"Do you think they're okay?"

He didn't know what he had expected as an answer to that. Some kind of affirmation, he supposed. All Daniel got out of Jack was a shrug and a glance, both imparted as his eyelids were closing and he was falling into sleep.

~~*~~

Before this latest development, his and Captain Carter's situation had been unfortunate. Teal'c now understood, however, just how precarious it was. He could tell Captain Carter comprehended this as well.

"Whoa, are those what I think they are?"

"If you believe the water serves as a nesting area for these creatures, then you would be correct," Teal'c said.

"Holy Hannah."

Motive of the enemy was not always of much help in strategizing against them, especially when motive was deeply rooted in emotion. The protection of loved ones, of children or of the yet born, was the strongest instinct Teal'c had ever encountered. SG-1's quest for water, no matter how benign in relation to the creatures, would be considered an unfriendly act. Without a means to communicate their intent, he and Captain Carter were trapped.

"No wonder they don't want us anywhere near it. The shoreline is covered with eggshells. This must be where the eggs are incubated. It certainly eliminates the need for some of them to be stuck in one place for long periods of time. They can rotate shifts or whatever and..."

His companion rambled, and he found himself annoyed.

"Captain Carter, perhaps now is not the time to theorize on such matters."

"Right," she said with a strange smile.

Teal'c doubted she knew she had made the expression.

Captain Carter glanced from the egg-laden water to the SGC equipment. "I know you're right, but there has to be something we can do."

He thought perhaps they could indeed accomplish something, but that the something would ultimately be their own demise. There was no means of conquering or even outwitting an enemy such as this, namely one of which they had no knowledge and that had the 'home field advantage.' He and Captain Carter could vie for water; they would likely not get it here.

"I do not believe that is an accurate statement under these conditions."

She appeared crestfallen by his edict, and for that he was regretful. He did not believe in speaking anything other than the truth as he understood it. Giving hope where there was none was a method Apophis employed, and he strove to never mimic that.

"So, what? We go back and tell the colonel we failed? We can't do that. Daniel can't go without water for much longer, and neither can the rest of us. It's too hot here during the day."

He agreed that was not an acceptable option. He was simply at a loss to provide another one. Captain Carter's communication attempt had failed, and so far it appeared as though the creatures had much more ease in deciphering body language than they did. Teal'c wondered if it were possible for them to understand English, then reconsidered. If that were the case, they surely would not take issue with SG-1's need for water. He realized the irony of both motives in this situation being similar in nature. They wished to protect their young. SG-1 wished to protect their friend.

"I do not know, Captain Carter," Teal'c said. He did not enjoy admitting that. In fact, he had not enjoyed one minute of their time on this planet. "It is possible there is another water source in close proximity."

"Tell me you sense that somehow."

"I cannot."

"I didn't think so." Captain Carter bit her lower lip once. She lifted her gaze from the guarded SGC field gear to the water, then to the creatures. "I'm going to try to make them understand again. I wish Daniel were here."

Daniel Jackson's expertise would indeed be of great use, but if he were here to provide it, then they likely would not have such need. It was yet another irony Teal'c found to be choking at the back of his throat. Every action, witting or unwittingly, taken since their arrival on this planet had been countered. He and Captain Carter had been playing the Tau'ri game of checkers while the creatures played chess. So late in the virtual game, he wondered if it even possible for them to attain any strategic footing.

"You will do fine, Captain Carter."

She shook her head, but again relinquished her weapon. Teal'c took it. He preferred the sleek beauty of his staff to Tau'ri automatic weaponry, but he did understand that his was not an offensive weapon so much as one of intimidation. In the event this did not go well, he would need to provide heavy fire if he hoped to assist Captain Carter back to cover. He continued to believe the creatures were not interested in violence. As long as Captain Carter maintained the proper distance they would not become a threat.

"I realize you don't understand a word I'm saying," Captain Carter said, her hands outstretched.

Teal'c stayed just at the edge of the clearing, assuming his protective role with practiced ease.

"We don't mean any harm. Our friend, he's sick. All we need is a little water, just to tide us over until we can get out of here."

Captain Carter moved closer to the water, stopping just before the broken eggshells became thick upon the ground. Teal'c knew she would not attempt to move beyond that point; they now better understood the game being played. He began to believe they might yet prevail. The creatures did not respond. Normally, this would be a negative in a negotiation setting. In this instance, non-reaction was indeed a good thing. Teal'c observed the creatures watching not only Captain Carter but him as well.

He reconsidered his belief that they had calculatedly targeted O'Neill and Daniel Jackson as weak links, for if they had truly gauged SG-1 they would already understand no ill will was intended. No, he decided, they had simply engaged in defensive maneuvers. Teal'c could find no fault in those actions. If anything, he now had even more hope resolution could be achieved.

"I don't think they're getting it, Teal'c." Captain Carter took a small step backward, shoulders slumping minutely.

"Perhaps communication will not be accomplished through speech."

"Oh," she said, turning to look back at him with a quick smile. "I hadn't thought of that. I should have, though. I know I've picked up on some of their physical cues, so they might be able to do the same."

Teal'c bowed his head briefly. It would have occurred to her in time, but time was something of which they had a limited amount. Daniel would have thought of it almost immediately, as he had done so in the past. Teal'c felt a stab of guilt for making even the smallest of comparisons between his teammates. Captain Carter crouched down.

"I think perhaps written communication is also not a viable option with this particular species," Teal'c said.

She stood again, looking at him with an odd, consternated expression. Teal'c merely bowed his head again. Not only was Captain Carter under a great deal of stress, the lack of hydration could already be affecting her. To be honest, he also found attempting to communicate with an avian species, one that had no verbal language a human could truly understand, to be disconcerting.

"Okay, so Charades it is," Captain Carter muttered.

She restated their message, this time emphasizing it with dramatic mimicry. If the creatures understood the intent behind Captain Carter's gesticulations, they did not demonstrate such. Teal'c now knew better than to assume a lack of response indicated a lack of understanding. Though Captain Carter's back was to him, he could sense how much of her own need for water fed her entreaty. The desperation translated well. He hoped that, if nothing else, would influence the creatures.

"I don't think it's working." Captain Carter looked back toward him, frustration lining her face. "They're not registering at all."

"Of that we should not be certain," Teal'c said. "We have already underestimated them once."

"You can say that again."

"We have already underestimated them once."

Captain Carter chuckled and shook her head, which was precisely the reaction he had intended. During his short time of his service to the SGC, Teal'c had learned it was indeed possible to be too serious. There was every reason on the planet to be serious. This situation was not a laughing matter. However, a mere moment of levity relaxed some of the tension from his companion's shoulders and she appeared revitalized to continue her attempts.

As it turned out, the continuation was interrupted. The creature closest to Captain Carter suddenly hopped forward several times. It seemed the only one to pay attention to her communication attempts. Teal'c studied the creature, and determined it must be the leader among them. He noticed for the first time that the bony ridge on its forehead was in a slightly different variation than most of the other creatures. He speculated it might signify some sort of cultural or tribal importance. Daniel would be very interested. It took off flying and, judging from its direction, he believed it was headed for the Stargate's location. Toward O'Neill and Daniel. Captain Carter looked back to him with a frown.

"Okay, I guess that didn't go so well."

"No," Teal'c said.

He was displeased at their continued standoff. The choice now was whether to remain and wait for the leader to return or make haste to their defenseless friends. None of the other creatures moved, staying at their vigilant guard.

"Let's head back to the others," Captain Carter said.

She was exhausted and dehydrated; she would not be able to make the journey quickly, and Teal'c knew her mind was on helping O'Neill and Daniel. He knew what they should do. It was contrary to his liking.

"That would be an ineffective course of action."

"What, so we're supposed to just sit here?"

"It displeases me as well, Captain Carter, but it is impossible for us to reach O'Neill and Daniel Jackson in the time necessary to lend aid. We also do not know the creature's intentions are malicious."

"So we wait."

"We wait."

They did not have to wait long. Within minutes, the leader returned and took up its previous position. It began pushing at the stolen SGC equipment with its beak, separating out Teal'c's canteen and flipping it toward them with a loud cry. He stood at the ready while Captain Carter dropped her guard slightly as she leaned down to pick it up.

"I guess they understood after all."

"It would appear so," Teal'c said. He was pleased, but could not let his guard down just yet. "What seems a victory may yet have minute threads of cloth attached to it, and could unravel."

"Right, I'll watch for any strings attached," Captain Carter said with a smile. She removed the cap and began walking toward the water. Almost immediately, the creatures began to shriek. She stopped moving. "Okay, that was a string."

For a moment, Teal'c did not know how to interpret the creature's intentions. There was clear intent, some message he and Captain Carter must ascertain. He also noticed that it looked from the canteen to the water several times, with a mere flick of its yellow eyes. In turn, he transferred his gaze from the creature to Captain Carter. More specifically, he looked at her left hand and the small cap she held in it.

"Captain Carter, it would seem they wish you to throw the canteen to them."

"Oh," she said, and blinked twice. "Opposable thumb issue."

"Indeed."

This development did follow their pattern of protectiveness. Teal'c still could not fault them for it. If anything, esteem grew for them that they were willing to aid in SG-1's cause ... and then he realized it would be just as much to the creatures' benefit to have him and Captain Carter away from the small lake.

"Well, here goes nothing."

Captain Carter flung the opened canteen back toward the creatures. The leader caught it by the strap, and then hopped over, dipping the vessel into the water. With a near seamless motion, it threw the canteen back. It fell short of Captain Carter, some of the contents sloshing onto the dark soil. They needed every drop, but anything they did get should not be taken for granted. Captain Carter capped the canteen and moved back to his side.

"That wasn't as hard as it could have been," she said. "And it's not much, but better than nothing, right?"

He tipped his head slightly and handed her the MP-5 and they began moving away from the lake. Oddly, their action caused the leader to cry out again. They froze and spun around in unison. The leader had bounded toward them. It was now within arm's length, and it loomed. It took a great deal to intimidate him. Teal'c was intimidated. The creature tilted its head back and opened its jaws. In anticipation of an attack, Teal'c took a step back and aimed his staff.

The creature made a series of clucking noises and leaned its head back down, nudging closer to Captain Carter. Teal'c growled a warning. It looked at him briefly, as if bored, before tapping its beak against the canteen. Squawking once more, it then tipped its head back and resumed the clucking noises.

"Okay, what is this all about?"

He could not answer the question. He relaxed from his defensive posture somewhat, but not entirely. He and Captain Carter were still playing checkers, it would seem. Teal'c watched the creature pantomime the same thing again, and began to have an idea of understanding.

"I believe it is signaling to drink," he said.

"But this is for Dan -" Captain Carter grunted as the creature butted against the canteen with more force. "I guess not."

She twisted the cap off and took an obligatory drink. After six swallows, she stopped and looked at the creature. It, in turn, looked at Teal'c. Captain Carter handed him the canteen with a slight shrug and expression of relief on her face. Teal'c could smell how good the water was going to taste before he lifted the canteen to his lips. Once the liquid touched his tongue, he could not seem to control himself. He drained the canteen dry, belatedly realizing he should have left some water for his companions. He did not know if the creatures intended on refilling it. Staring guiltily at the canteen, he could not bring himself to look at Captain Carter.

"I think it's going to be okay, Teal'c," she said, taking the canteen from him. "So far, they've surprised us. If they were a threat on any level, we would have known that long ago. We just needed to understand each other, and I think we do now. Don't we?"

The creature trilled, this sound different from the rough notes it had used previously. He looked up. Captain Carter proffered the canteen. The creature took it and returned to the lake.

"See? Just fine."

Things were indeed beginning to 'look up'. He continued to believe that the creatures were grand chess champions while he and Captain Carter were novices. The creature filled the canteen, glancing over to them and then lifting off into flight.

"Hey," Captain Carter said. "Hey!"

Physically, he benefited from the sparse water in which he had partaken. Emotionally, he was exhausted by the continued fluctuation pertaining to these alien beings. He did not care for creatures he could not understand, whose intentions and actions could not be predicted well in advance. This was not a new realization; it was yet more evidence of SG-1's relative impotence. The knowledge they did gain, however, was such that their actions were being gauged very closely.

"Perhaps it is taking the water to O'Neill and Daniel Jackson directly, Captain Carter."

"Well, it will get there a heck of a lot faster than we could. Let's get going. There's no reason for us to hang around here."

She was correct. There was not. Teal'c did wish they had been supplied with more water, and hoped it was enough to sustain them until the dial home device could be completely unearthed and repaired. Above all, he hoped the leader truly was on a delivery mission, and that O'Neill's earlier frustration did not correlate to hostile action from the creatures toward him and Daniel. Beyond thievery, that was. He stared back toward the lake, again cursing his inability to determine the actions of their adversaries.

"At least it'll be easier going than coming," Captain Carter said. He looked away from the lake and to his companion. She was not truly interested in the ease of their journey. Her face spoke of distraction and worry for O'Neill and Daniel. "That's something, I suppose."

"Yes, it is," Teal'c agreed.

They quickened their pace.

~~*~~

Jack was pretty sure Daniel was okay, but when his friend slipped into sleep, he felt a stab of fear in his gut. With their current streak of luck, it wouldn't surprise him in the least for this to be a resurgence of the strange fever. This bout of Daniel's unconsciousness, however, he would not mess up. They had firewood. They had water. They probably had hours to go before dawn, which was a mixed blessing. The cooler nighttime air was preferable to the hotness of the dual suns, but if those nasty critters came back for another attack it was more difficult to see in the dark.

Daniel seemed to believe they weren't much of a threat. That was probably because he hadn't been awake to see them steal a majority of their stuff, all while one of them stood menacingly over him. Jack was certain Daniel's tune would be just a little different if he'd been awake for ... no, no, that wasn't true. Daniel had one of those things on top of him, for crying out loud, and still managed to stick up for them. Typical. Infuriating. Goddamned admirable.

His stomach growled, reminding him that man could not live on water alone. It was risk enough for them to drink untreated water; Jack didn't want to chance ingesting anything else from this planet. He glanced up to the moon. It was still mid-sky. Apparently the only fast thing about night was the moonrise. He switched his attention to the DHD, then back up to the moon, and finally at Daniel. He should take advantage of the cool night air, moonlight and lack of company. The DHD dig site wasn't far from the camp, so he could multi-task. Now was the perfect time to dig.

"No rest for the weary," he muttered as he rose.

Standing brought a variety of aches and pains to the forefront. The afternoon of digging and evening of lugging Daniel around shouldn't have produced that level of soreness. Dehydration played a big part in that. All the more reason to speed up getting off this rock, preferably before they ran out of water again. Jack looked at the canteen. God, he wanted more than the few swallows he'd taken. He leaned down and picked up his handgun, shoving it into the waistband of his BDUs. He seriously doubted it would do much good if it came to that.

"Dig first, worry about huge-ass flying bird things ... at the same time."

The talking to himself thing had to stop before it turned into a full-blown habit. He eyed the tree line. Whatever had happened with Carter and Teal'c, they had to be okay. Too bad he couldn't, y'know, use his radio to check in with them. Jack suspected the critters had some master plan, one they were executing pretty damn well. For the life of him, though, he couldn't figure out what it might be. Carter and Teal'c would fill him in if they returned. When they returned. Daniel made a small sleep-sound. Jack was glad to hear it. He bent down to check for a reappearance of the fever anyway.

Daniel was a little warm, but it seemed to be all surface, from the fire. Jack added another couple branches to the blaze. He nearly checked Daniel again, but pulled out of the compulsion. Overkill, Jack, he thought, overkill. He walked over to the DHD. By some stroke of luck or design, the creatures hadn't taken the small hand shovel. It was going to take a lot of effort to dig out the base of the DHD with the trowel. He wondered how self contained it was, and if moisture would cause problems. More problems than the DHD already had. It would be so much easier to scoop sand loosened by water than this compacted stuff. When Carter got back, he'd ask. For now, he had to suck it up and hack at the solid earth.

He took it slow, both so he didn't overtax himself any further and to keep careful watch on Daniel. He made several breaks to stir up the fire and check Daniel. Yeah, yeah, overkill. He even prodded Daniel a couple of times just to get a reaction, but never enough to rouse him completely. The hole was going slowly. Slow progress was better than no progress at all. He figured he should leave some for Teal'c to do. Wouldn't want the big guy to feel left out. With the thought of Teal'c, Jack realized he had been checking the tree line for signs of his errant two team members just as often as he'd taken breaks for other things.

There were too many damned unknown variables about all this for his liking. The cause of Daniel's illness and subsequent paralysis, the bird things and their intentions, where the hell Carter and Teal'c were and what had happened to them. He didn't let himself ponder anything beyond this planet. Or tried not to. Bajiar's freak-out replayed in his head. Daniel would quote some mumbo jumbo about different cultures, but Jack didn't care about that. Something besides their little breach of protocol had been going on back there, he knew it. It was a niggle that niggled to the front of his thoughts, just where he didn't want it to be. It all went back to Bajiar, somehow.

Jack shook his head, trying to pull himself out of his musings. None of that mattered anyway. He looked down to check his progress and was surprised to find he had cleared a good portion of the DHD base. Navel-gazing wasn't such an unproductive use of his time after all. He tossed the trowel down and wiped sweat from his brow. Half of the control panel was visible. He thought he was done. His muscles were tired. He was tired, and thirsty. He clambered to his feet with a groan.

"Get a lot accomplished?" Daniel said as Jack neared the campsite.

"Hey, you're awake." Jack sank down, reaching for the canteen. "And I actually did."

"That's great."

Daniel watched him take two small swallows with such intentness that Jack felt guilty. He held the canteen in offering. Daniel should drink a bit more anyway after being feverish during the hottest hours of the day, but he shook his head.

"Yeah," Jack said.

He put the canteen down next to Daniel, in case he changed his mind, careful to bury it firmly into the sand. Without a cap, the water would probably evaporate quickly once the suns came out. He rotated his shoulders, muscles still weak.

"I might have overdone it."

"You okay?"

Well, I'm not paralyzed, Jack thought. He winced. Talk about being insensitive. He flicked his gaze to Daniel's immobile legs, then away again.

"Fine, just ready to get out of here," Jack said.

"Know that feeling," Daniel said, and coughed.

"Daniel, you should drink."

"I'll wait until daylight."

That made sense, and he could accept that as valid reasoning even if he disagreed. Jack tracked the moon. It grazed the tops of the trees already. He'd been digging for a while. If the moon set as quickly as the suns had, daylight would be upon them soon enough. Carter and Teal'c should have been back a long time ago. He frowned and stared back at the tree line.

"No sign of Sam and Teal'c, huh?"

"Not yet, but they'll get here. They said it wasn't far. I'm betting that was Teal'c's estimation and we all know how he is."

"Close is subjective."

"Something like that."

He was a terrible actor. He could see Daniel's understanding of his concern plainly. Jack wished for their string of semi-decent luck to continue, and for Carter and Teal'c to come through the brush. Both of them in one piece.

"They can take care of themselves, Jack."

"Yeah, well, usually you can too and look at your situation."

As soon as he said it, Jack was mortified, and equally for admitting to Daniel that he was capable and for the sheer inappropriateness of the remark. Daniel gawped at him for a moment, then started chuckling. And that was as inappropriate as his words, yet also just as fitting.

"Good point," Daniel said. He stopped laughing, and Jack was glad. It had been without humor, really. "Actually, I've been thinking about my situation."

Quite a feat, considering most of Daniel's time had been spent either unconscious or in a state of very confused consciousness. How unsurprising that he himself had glossed over the details of Daniel's circumstances in his own thoughts. Jack could not lose a team member so soon after getting used to him and his pain in the ass ways. It wasn't an option. He stared at Daniel's legs, nodding.

"Yeah, that situation," Daniel said lightly.

Jack looked up, embarrassed to find Daniel looking at him with a pained smile on his face. He nodded unhappily.

"It's not permanent," Jack said.

"We don't know that."

"Damnit, I'm trying to stay positive here."

"Do you want to hear what I've been thinking about or not?"

Not. Not really. Not if Daniel thought the paralysis could be permanent. Sometimes Jack wished a person could stick his fingers in his ears and chant la-la-la-la until everything went back to normal. It really should be some universal law - an easy button to use during unpleasant situations. He smiled at Daniel. His face felt like it could crack.

"Love to. Lay it on me."

"I was thinking about the Wiutehian ghetto."

That was it. That's what tied everything here back to Bajiar. What a miserable connection. Jack turned his disingenuous smile upside down. The ghetto memory was bad enough without any insight from Daniel, because like it or not, Daniel's insights were usually correct. Jack didn't know if he was ready to hear bad news. The earnest, serious, confused expression now on Daniels face made him certain it was bad news.

"You were, huh," Jack said. "Not a fun thing to think about."

"No, it's not." Daniel chewed on his lip. He propped himself up on one elbow, twisting his torso so that the top half of his body was on the side. His legs stayed pretty much...useless. "Did it strike you that the ghetto was a near mirror opposite of the picture of perfection they presented to us?"

"Well, yea-ah." That was stating the obvious. "What's your point?"

"That man, he was desperate for us to leave his son alone. He was scared and angry beyond reason, given our actions were not aggressive. And Bajiar ... I don't know, I have a feeling he knew somehow that I had been touched."

Aha, so he wasn't the only one who'd picked up on that. Of course, it hadn't been subtle. Even Daniel had to have been aware of the once over and distain Bajiar had treated him to. It was actually somewhat of an improvement for Daniel; usually when virtual daggers or mental undressing were happening to Daniel, the guy was totally oblivious. There was hope for him yet.

"So he knew. What does that tell us, exactly, besides the fact it was probably the straw that broke Bajiar's back and got us a one way ticket here?"

"It's more about the man from the ghetto. He was on crutches."

"Daniel, if you're going to make a point, I'd prefer you do it sooner rather than later and in a less annoying way."

Jack already knew and even though he knew he already knew, he didn't really want to know where Daniel was going with this. He really didn't. At the same time, he wanted to get it out of the way, out in the open.

"Putting together the physical ailment, the conditions of the ghetto, the man's distress," Daniel said. He paused to clear his throat.

Jack picked up the canteen and gave it to him, frowning when it was ignored yet again.

"What if the entire Wiutehian society is parasitical in nature?"

"Like the Goa'uld?"

"Yes." Daniel fiddled with the canteen. He didn't lean up, apparently not going to drink.

Jack clenched his jaw.

"No, actually. No, not really."

Jack was confused. Something about what Daniel said was off, backwards. Maybe he just wasn't smart enough to connect the dots when they were so far apart and in Daniel's head. The day he found someone who could connect Daniel's dots was the day he, uh, found yet another person way smarter than he was.

"How not -"

That was when Carter and Teal'c stumbled out of the underbrush and onto the beach. They raised a ruckus, and Jack should have heard them coming half a mile away. Both of them were ragged and rumpled and a sight for worried eyes.

~~*~~

Teal'c weighed a ton, and Sam knew he wasn't even giving her a fraction of his weight.

She also knew he was embarrassed, but it could have happened to either of them. Part of his machismo was expected. He was, after all, very male. Sam thought she'd sensed a certain amount of gentleness in him, though, something that set him a little apart from a regular old human male. She guessed she should be glad for that machismo, because there was no way they would have made it if it had fallen to her strength alone.

"When you say we're almost there, you mean almost there, right?" Sam said, grunting a little as their hobbling steps stuttered from the quasi-rhythm they'd established. "Not an hour away."

"I would estimate the time of arrival to be no more than ten minutes, Captain Carter."

Uh oh. Sam could hear discomfort in his voice. Teal'c didn't showcase his discomfort, as far as she could tell. As disconcerting as his obvious pain was to hear, she was relieved to hear his answer. Ten minutes meant they were very close, considering their pace. She was surprised she couldn't see firelight or maybe hear something from the colonel or Daniel, but then as far as she knew they had met with disaster hours ago.

And that was something she didn't really want to think about.

Sam quickened her pace without intending to, which of course threw her and Teal'c's rhythm off even more. She paid for it when Teal'c tightened his grip on her shoulder, and damn he was strong. She hissed, the pressure making her remember how tender that shoulder was from the tumble through the 'gate. It couldn't be nearly as tender as Teal'c's knee right now. She wondered why his super-Jaffa-recovery-mechanism hadn't kicked in yet. She decided not to ask him; she wouldn't want to wound his pride any more.

The lack of water, she realized. Dehydration could be and probably was the answer to his taking longer to recover from injury. It was also what she could now hear - waves lapping against the shore with a gentle wash and roll. Thirst came back strong and fast. Sam guessed she shouldn't have counted on the distraction of Teal'c's knee injury lasting the duration of the trip back. She appreciated it while it had, now that reality was setting back in. And miles to go before I sleep, she thought with a sigh.

Then she heard something besides water and began to smile. A voice drifted over to them.

"That's Daniel," Sam said. "He's awake."

She could smell smoke now, and see an orange glow that wasn't coming from the moon. Daniel was awake and both he and the colonel were apparently all right enough to be talking. This time it was Teal'c who picked up the pace, hobbling less than he had been. He had probably heard Daniel talking from some distance back. Sam sneaked a glance over to him, wondering why he hadn't said anything. He looked as exhausted as she felt. His signs of infallibility were kind of nice to see, even as they were probably a source of agitation for him.

They burst through the dense forest onto the beach with suddenness that shouldn't have surprised her. Daniel and the colonel stared over at them with equal surprise. She was so glad to see them that she almost let go of Teal'c. In doing so, she set in motion of chain of unfortunate grapples that ended in both her and Teal'c crashing to the ground. She heard the colonel call out, but was too overcome by an urge to laugh to let her CO know they were okay. Call it stress, call it stress relief, call it exhaustion. Once she started laughing, she couldn't seem to stop.

"Jeez, what happened to you two?" the colonel said, very close now.

His concern just made her laugh harder, though some part of her knew how inappropriate the reaction was. An instant replay of Teal'c slipping on a giant leaf wet from bird poo rolled like a movie in her head again; that kind of stuff just didn't happen to him and even though he'd twisted his knee, it was damn funny.

"Are they okay? What's going on?" Daniel asked.

Daniel's queries, for some reason, sobered her up. Sam stopped giggling and extricated her limbs from the tangled mess she and Teal'c were. She flipped over, greeted by the colonel's frowning face. He probably had no idea how haggard he looked, the lines on his face shadowed by the moon's weakening rays. None of this was fun and games, she reminded herself. She felt like a wretch for laughing.

"We're fine, Daniel," she said as she sat up.

Sam looked over to the camp. Daniel was still lying next to the fire, though he was propped on one elbow. She scrunched her eyebrows together slightly and switched her attention to the colonel. His lips were in a thin line that could only represent one thing - displeasure of some kind. He shook his head at her. She clung to the idea that his unhappiness was because she'd probably unintentionally made it seem like she and Teal'c were injured above and beyond what they actually were. Her laughter had sounded more like wheezing. She stood up and swiped the sand off her clothes. Or his expression was irritation, and she couldn't blame him for that either. Laughing wasn't the best thing she could have done.

"We encountered difficulties, O'Neill," Teal'c said, getting to his feet as well.

Understatement.

"Yeah, so did we," the colonel said, staring over at Daniel

Sam became uneasy. Now she couldn't read his expression - lack of expression - at all. She supposed that in and of itself was a somewhat accurate interpretation. It was also no shock that the colonel and Daniel's difficulties might have revolved around Daniel, though he looked okay now. Better than okay. Better than lying unconscious and feverish, or dead like she'd imagined.

"But we'll swap stories later. Teal'c, you okay?" the colonel asked. "You look like you're limping a bit."

"I am fine."

A slight untruth, but all things considered, a bum knee on a Jaffa was not a life-or-death issue. Sam kept her gaze on Daniel as they walked. It occurred to her, a little late, to wonder why Daniel hadn't moved to check on them like O'Neill had. The fever, she thought a moment later, the fever had probably taken a lot out of him. She saw Daniel had the canteen propped against his hip and was relieved. She'd assumed the creatures had taken the canteen for that reason. Well, she hoped, really. Between the whole not thinking about how her friends might be dead or maimed, but they weren't, so she should stop thinking about that now. She was a little dizzy, though she couldn't say why. Too many things in her head.

"Daniel," she said as she crouched down next to him. "How're you feeling?"

He smiled at her, expression strange, like he didn't really mean it. Okay, something was going on, and she thought she wasn't going to like it when she found out what.

"I'm not, ah, I'm not feeling much of anything. Didn't Jack tell you?"

"Tell me what?"

"Daniel can't move his legs," the colonel said.

The colonel crouched down as well, reaching for the small pile of branches near the fire. He scooped them up and tossed them onto the fire, sparks flying up. One landed on her thigh with a hiss, and a slightly acrid smell wafted from it. Big spark, she thought dully. She stared down at the black spot, trying to process the information she'd just been told. Her brain must be more affected by the dehydration than she'd thought, because it didn't quite connect.

"Can't move his legs," she said.

"Yes, Carter. That's right. Can't move his legs, as in he's paralyzed from the waist down."

"Paralyzed."

Calling parrot Carter. Her brain was thick. She didn't really know why she kept repeating everything that was being said like she didn't understand the meaning of the words. She understood. She just didn't understand. Daniel looked fine. She plopped her butt down on the sand.

"I need to get more firewood," the colonel said, stomping off.

She, Teal'c and Daniel sat there watching him go. Sam looked away when he disappeared into the underbrush, her gaze landing on Daniel's legs. She knew what paralyzed meant, so she couldn't possibly expect them to start moving, except she kind of did. She glanced up and saw Daniel watching her.

"It's temporary," Daniel said. "I'm sure it'll go away."

Daniel's stomach growled, and so Sam stared at that part of his anatomy instead of his legs or his eyes. His eyes were filled with doubt that couldn't be masked by the assurance he tried to give.

"What has transpired here, Daniel Jackson?" Teal'c said, voice softer than Sam had heard it in a long time.

"I don't really know, to be honest with you. I only know I woke up in the water and I couldn't feel my legs."

From Jungle Fever to Dinosaur Island to ... this. She couldn't play this off with a lame fake movie title. Actually, she shouldn't have for the other things, either. There really wasn't anything amusing about their situation at all.

"You just couldn't feel your legs?" she said. Damnit, there she went stating the obvious again. "That doesn't make sense."

Sam tried to think of any Earth-based illnesses with similar symptoms, though she really hoped now Daniel's illness hadn't been contracted at the SGC. The only thing she could come up with was encephalitis, and the symptoms weren't that similar at all. No debilitating headache, no unjustifiable confusion, no seizures that she was aware of, and the paralysis seemed to be too localized.

"Actually, it does." Daniel sighed, an old and tired sound. "What happened to you guys?"

If it wasn't an Earth-bound illness, then it could have come from anywhere, from anything. At any time. None of this made sense. Daniel hadn't been anywhere the rest of the team hadn't, so at least one of them should have started exhibiting the same symptoms. It was bad enough to have Daniel ill, but paralyzed? Sam didn't know how to deal with that complication - it came with issues they were even less prepared to handle.

"The details of our venture are somewhat unimportant at this time, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said. "Of greater concern is your condition."

Sam startled at the sound of his voice, pulled from her thoughts.

Daniel blanched, looking uncomfortable and very much like he didn't want to talk about the specifics. Well, none of them seemed to want to do that, but all of them really should. An exchange of intel was necessary even when nobody wanted to hear it. Sam glanced back to where O'Neill had disappeared, seeing him emerge from the underbrush with an armful of sticks. The moon was setting. She doubted they really needed to feed the fire for much longer, and she hoped they wouldn't be around for another night.

"We've all got stories to swap," the colonel said, plopping the sticks down, "but some of us need to get some sleep. That means you, Carter. We need you to figure out what's wrong with the DHD tomorrow."

The DHD wasn't the only thing in need of fixing.

"But - " she started to say.

"Carter."

There would be no discussing, apparently. She didn't know how O'Neill expected any of them to rest with so many weighty unknowns looming over their heads. Despite her doubts, though, Sam did find herself yawning. She tried to hide it, keeping her lips tightly compressed while she formed a canyon in her mouth. That effort was a wasted one. Both the colonel and Teal'c caught her at it, and Daniel would have, except he had lain back down and was staring at the sky.

"Yes, sir," she said.

"I do remember you guys asking me if I knew what made me sick," Daniel said, words rushed and detached.

The colonel stiffened.

Daniel must have noticed; he waved his hand a little. "I was just about to tell Jack this when you guys showed up."

"It can wait, Daniel."

"Maybe it can, but it won't change anything if I don't say it."

"What is it you wish to tell us, Daniel Jackson?" Teal'c said.

Yes, what? Sam was just tired and concerned enough that the vague commentary between O'Neill and Daniel annoyed her. It was too late for Daniel to not say anything now.

"I think the Wiutehians are a parasitical society. There are those that have everything - the best schools, the best technology, the best standard of life," Daniel said. He turned his head and looked at them, the strange smile back on his face. "And then there are those who have nothing, whose lives have been so devalued they are hidden from sight."

"Only visited when the rich need something from them," the colonel added. He grimaced and rubbed a hand across his mouth, like he could somehow scrub the words away.

Sam didn't know why they were so upsetting to him.

"Which is why we weren't welcome there."

"The people in the ghetto thought we were going to take from them the same way Bajiar and his kind did."

"Apparently they didn't have to worry about that too much," the colonel said.

"I don't understand. They had nothing for us, or the Wiutehians to take," Sam said. "How could the society be parasitical?"

"What do parasites do, Carter?"

"They use other forms of life purely for their own gain," Teal'c said with distaste. "The Wiutehians are no better than the Goa'uld."

Sam had a sudden memory of a crippled man, an intense moment. She finally found herself on the same page as her teammates, and it wasn't a page she really wanted to read.

~~*~~

It was the looks of pity that Daniel couldn't bear. He doubted any of them realized they were doing it, Sam being the worst offender, but that didn't lessen his discomfort. The broad daylight made all the difference, set every expression that had probably happened last night into vibrant color. The two suns seemed to make everything that much brighter and clearer. Normally he appreciated clarity. Now he found himself resenting it.

"Are you doing okay out there, Sam?" Daniel said as she ducked down under the lean-to's shade. He picked up the canteen and shook it. There wasn't much left. "It's getting warm."

"I'm okay. I haven't made much progress." After an expected, brief, and pity-filled glance at his legs, Sam focused on the canteen. "To be honest, I have absolutely no idea what's wrong with the DHD."

He wouldn't pull a Jack and assure her that she'd figure it out. The truth was she might not, and faith sometimes seemed a lot more like pressure than belief. She didn't need that from him, not when Jack had prowled around her all morning. He was glad when Jack had announced he was going to canvass the nearby area for anything that might look edible or of any other use to them. He need the break, and he was positive both Sam and Teal'c did as well. Jack could be very aggravating.

"It could probably be about a million different things."

"Yeah. I have one last thing to try with the DHD itself, then I'm going to have to dig deeper, literally," Sam said. She bit down on the corner of her lip, eyes still trained on the canteen. "There's not much left?"

"No." He handed the water over to her. Her cheeks were a radiant pink. On any other occasion Daniel might have considered it an attractive look, but here it only spoke of exertion and heat. It increased his concern about their dilemma. "You should drink some."

"You have no idea how much I want that." Sam swiped a forearm across her sweaty brow. She shook her head, pursing her chapped lips together. "I think I can hold off for a little longer."

"Sam," he said. "Out of all of us, it's most important that you don't, as Jack would say, keel over."

She nodded, but didn't look happy. Daniel didn't blame her. Their fate really did rest on her shoulders. So much for no pressure. He looked at her until she made eye contact with him, then gave her a smile he hoped was mischievous.

"At least not until we get home. The SGC is a 'feel free to keel' zone."

Her eyebrows raised, and for a second he wasn't sure if she'd taken his comment in the spirit it was intended. Then she said, "Oh, it is, huh?"

"Well, you know, medical help is readily available there, for one thing. Bang your head, bruise your bu, er, arm and Doctor Fraiser is right there."

"Good point." Sam chewed a piece of dried skin that had started to crack and peel away from her lower lip. She stopped worrying at it quickly, with a grimace. "We'll get you there, Daniel, I swear."

Don't make promises, he almost said.

"I'm not the only one stuck here," Daniel said instead.

Sam nodded, gave the canteen one last longing look, and went back out into the sun. She was putting too much pressure on herself, he realized. Jack had nothing on her. Daniel didn't envy her task. The DHD seemed a more complicated piece of machinery than the Stargate itself; with the 'gate, it came down to mechanics - replace a cog here, a bracket there. It had taken a team of scientists years to come up with the computer counterpart to the DHD. But what did he know? He was an archaeologist, not a ... what was Sam's specialty again? He could never remember it exactly. It probably wasn't that relevant. He had already worn several different hats himself since joining SG-1.

His thoughts quickly returned to the Wiutehians - both affluent and destitute. He doubted the rich would allow anyone from Earth to set foot back on the planet. Even if they did, it could be disastrous. Daniel tried to imagine what it was like for that crippled man to regain some of his good fortune, assuming the transference went both ways, and then tried to imagine that on a broader scale. It wasn't a pretty scene. He wished that he had more information about both sides of the story. Right now, everything he knew was based on conjecture, the meanderings of a man who was stuck looking at a ramshackle roof of twigs on a remote beach on some remote planet in the galaxy. What did he know, he thought again. He was a paralyzed archaeologist.

He was a paralyzed archaeologist with an itch right in the middle of his back.

Daniel rolled his arms and shoulders forward so most of his back was touching sand, then started rocking his upper body like a turtle caught on its shell might do. It wasn't as effective as an actual scratch, but it would have to do. And then his right shoulder blade started to itch as well. He sighed. So this was how it was going to be for the rest of his existence. He teetered over to the right and scraped his shoulder blade against the sand.

"May I be of assistance, Daniel Jackson?"

Daniel thudded his torso flat down on his back again. It figured only Teal'c would manage to approach him without kicking up a telltale spray of sand. He squinted up. From his vantage point, all he could see was a looming, large body. Teal'c's head was cut off from his vision by the roof of his shelter. He wondered if Teal'c could see his face if he couldn't see Teal'c's. He was tempted to cross his eyes or stick out his tongue to see what kind of reaction either would get. He got distracted by the very thought of the offer, though. Having a nice, strong set of fingers scratch at his itch would be heaven right now, and Teal'c was a less embarrassing candidate for that kind of help than either Sam or Jack.

"You know," Daniel said. The itch in the middle of his back returned. "Since you offered, would you mind? It must be from lying in the sand for so long."

Teal'c crouched down, face as inexpressive as ever; that couldn't be how he really was, but the veneer he had was really polished well. Sometimes Teal'c's stoicism set Daniel on edge. He welcomed it right now, especially since it was incredibly difficult to sit up without help from leg muscles. Teal'c gave him what he thought just might be a smile, grasped his shoulders with care, lifted and then braced him up with one hand planted just below the nape of his neck. The scratching began, and Daniel felt transported to some heavenly plane or existence. Teal'c had magic fingers.

"Ohhhh, right there, yeah," Daniel said. Teal'c couldn't be putting his full muscle into it. "Don't be afraid to do it a little harder. I'm not made of bone ... ohhh ... china. Oooooooh, yeah, more like that. That's niiiiiice. Feels so good."

Teal'c was very prompt and responsive with things other than battling the Goa'uld. Daniel appreciated that about him. He didn't want this little scratching session to ever end. Thankfully, Teal'c saw fit to cover every inch of his back and shoulders. Daniel relaxed into the scratching as if he were receiving a massage. He wondered if it would be too much to ask. But then Teal'c stopped. Daniel sighed.

"Do you require further stimulation?" Teal'c said.

At that, there was a bizarre resonance coming from behind the lean-to, accompanied by skittering along the wall. Daniel stiffened. Teal'c eased him back to the ground, and then remained very still, on the auditory hunt for whatever might be lurking back there. Daniel had a brief flash of what it might be like if the giant birds decided to be less tolerant of SG-1's presence. Not pretty. Pretty much like their reception would be if they had to go back to Wiutehia, only with strong beaks and sharp talons.

His fears were unfounded. He recognized the strange sound at last.

"Jack?" he said.

Jack didn't, probably couldn't, answer him; he was too busy laughing. Daniel felt his cheeks flush, and not from the warm air temperature. He was right - Teal'c had been the ideal candidate for the job. Jack's display of sophomoric mirth was proof enough of that. So he had made a few sounds easily misinterpreted as something a bit more risqu. It wasn't really that funny. He rolled his eyes at Teal'c, who tilted his head a little and raised an eyebrow. Jack continued to chortle as he rounded the lean-to's corner. Daniel arched his back and neck so he could give Jack an upside down glare, but lost heart when he saw how relaxed the laughter made the other man. He hadn't been relaxed in what was probably days now, and if it was at Daniel's own expense, then so be it. He pictured Jack walking along, minding his business and suddenly being bombarded by sounds that could have easily come from a soft porn movie. Not that he would know.

"Daniel Jackson required my assistance to scratch an itch," Teal'c said, with total earnestness.

Jack's laughter had been dwindling, but that set him off again. Teal'c only looked all the more puzzled. Damnit if Daniel didn't feel the development of a laugh rise up from his belly into his chest. Okay, maybe it was that funny, and maybe it was okay to relax a little himself. With the exception of his lower half, he'd been pretty tense for the duration as well.

"Yeah, I got that," Jack said. "Ne...next time you ... you should get a room."

"There are no rooms on this planet, O'Neill, nor do I understand the purpose of seeking one. I would scratch Daniel Jackson's itch in any location if doing so would bring him relief."

Jack collapsed as if his legs had suddenly become as useless as Daniel's, falling on his rear. He wasn't laughing so much as gasping for breath now. Daniel couldn't help it - he chuckled a little himself. Teal'c continued to look perplexed, but he didn't say anything else. He'd apparently figured out that every time he spoke was cause for Jack to deteriorate even further.

"I was merely attempting provide aid. I do not find your amusement appropriate," Teal'c said, and started walking away. "I will assist Captain Carter now."

"Awww," Jack wheezed. "Teal'c's p...outing."

Daniel kept laughing quietly. Poor Teal'c. He'd have to explain that sometimes when people were under pressure for a sustained period of time that a seemingly random and insignificant event would be like a release valve, through which every range of emotion might escape. It was a far, far better thing for Jack to have stumbled across his and Teal'c's scratching session than to have continued to let the bad stuff build. Unfortunately the more he thought about it, the faster his own amusement faded. Teal'c was right, of course. This wasn't a laughing matter for any of them. Reason returned fully when he moved his arm and it bumped up against the near-empty canteen. He cleared his throat.

"We're almost out of water again," Daniel said.

Jack stopped laughing with a few last sighs.

"How'd the food hunt go?"

Jack took off his cap, scratched his head in a half-hearted ruffle and wiped the sweat from his brow. Then he blew out a breath and drew the cap down so it almost obscured his whole face. That didn't look very encouraging. The birds had to eat something, though he guessed knowing that hadn't really been helpful in the search. Many birds ate bugs, and while humans could do the same, he'd rather be hungry for a bit. Grasshoppers weren't his first choice, even the kind dipped in chocolate. Been there, eaten that.

"Well, we might have to raid the hatchery Carter and Teal'c said they found," Jack said at last, "because there isn't much else in the immediate area."

"Oh, good idea."

"I thought so. Nothing would cap off this mission better than being torn to pieces by a flock of giant pterodactyls."

"Not that they'd be to blame if we were trying to eat their babies."

"You've got a point," Jack said, a trace of a smile returning to his face. "Can you imagine if chickens came that size? Oy."

Daniel was starting to feel better again, at least emotionally. He could always count on Jack to try to keep things light even in the face of bleak circumstances. Besides, they'd run out of water before. For all they knew, the birds were keeping tabs on their progress; the only motivation Daniel had been able to figure for the water drop was to get SG-1 off the planet sooner. The birds seemed to like their solitude, and the quicker SG-1were gone, the quicker they'd have it. He ignored how hot his eyes felt and gave Jack a small smile.

"Attack of the fifty foot chicken?"

"Well, fuck a duck, yeah. You could say that."

Daniel mouthed 'fuck a duck' and raised his eyebrows. Jack shrugged his shoulders as he unclipped his pack. He swung it around, plopping it on the sand in front of him. He began rooting through it, all business. The ability to joke and still be completely in charge of a situation was actually a quality Daniel admired in Jack. But fuck a duck?

"I found some berries that might be edible and plants that look like dandelions."

"People put dandelions in salads all the time," Daniel said, trying to sound optimistic.

"Weird people put dandelions in salads all the time, but needs must. We'll have to do the Teal'c test for both. If his, you know, Goa'uld larva or whatever tells him it's not good for him, then it's probably not good for us."

Daniel nodded. Damn, his back was starting to itch again. He concentrated on watching Jack lay out the meager foodstuffs, like that could somehow make him forget about the itch.

"Too bad you chased him away." Daniel squirmed. It really was too bad.

"Hey, he didn't take off until you laughed."

"Yes, that's right, blame me." Daniel squirmed some more. He couldn't help it, even though he knew no amount of squirming would work. Once he'd started, it seemed impossible to stop. "It's all my fault."

"What the hell are you doing?" Jack asked.

He noticed belatedly that Jack had stopped spreading out his wares. Daniel looked up and found Jack was staring at him, eyebrows visible above his sunglasses. He finished his squirm before stopping at a comfortable position.

"I itch. Lying around in sand all day does that."

"Oh." Jack's eyebrows receded back down until they were hidden behind the shades. He frowned again and even though his eyes were covered, Jack looked Daniel up and down in a way that made him a bit uncomfortable. More than he was already, anyway. "Oh. You should have said something. Maybe if you lie on a jacket or two, that would help. Just sit up and I can put them down."

"Easier said than do -"

"Yes, yes, YES!"

Sam's emphatic shout cut Daniel off, and he was glad for the distraction. He didn't like the idea of Jack having to help him with basic bodily functions. More than that, he just didn't like the reminder of how helpless he was. Funny how he was fine with Teal'c's help but not Jack...oh, god, he wondered what would happen when he had to go to the bathroom. He didn't really want to think about that, or wonder if he'd even be able to tell when he had to go.

"Sounds like Teal'c's worked his magic on another member of my team," Jack said wryly. "And so fast. I wonder what his secret is."

"Shut up, Jack, and go find out what's going on."

Jack nodded and took off. Daniel's back didn't itch anymore. Thoughts of embarrassing bodily functions and a tiny thread of incongruous cold traveling up his spine aside, things were looking up.

~~*~~

Tau'ri humor was not amusing, and Teal'c had just discovered it often came at unsuitable times. He glanced backwards as O'Neill and Daniel Jackson's laughter continued. On some level he realized they were simply relieving the stresses of hours past, and on another level he knew his reaction was borne from stress as well. He should be concerned for his friends' mental well-being rather than irritated with their behavior.

The fact remained there was nothing about the situation that was comical in the least. They would soon be without water again, and Captain Carter appeared no closer to resolving the technical difficulties with the dial home device. He did not believe he could be of any real assistance to her, but Teal'c knew he favored her company to that of Daniel Jackson and O'Neill at this particular moment. He was pleased to note the pair of them had finally ceased laughing, until he overheard their conversation and realized they had gone from one extreme to another.

Perhaps their levity had not been entirely inappropriate.

He nearly turned around to rejoin them when he heard Daniel Jackson reference an assault maneuver involving a gigantic fowl, and O'Neill follow with an offensive remark involving a different type of fowl. Neither were topics of interest for him, nor did he need to be present for the return of their lightheartedness. Teal'c paused, though, when he heard O'Neill speak of his unsuccessful forage for food. With this new, unfortunate knowledge, he continued on his quest to assist Captain Carter.

"Captain Carter," he said while still well in advance of her locale. The Tau'ri were unaccustomed to the manner in which he walked. On several occasions, O'Neill had referred to his movements as 'sneaking around', which was not accurate. Teal'c simply walked. "Have you had success?"

"Oh. Hey, Teal'c."

Captain Carter's face was flushed and her hair matted. The skin on her shoulders appeared burned. She did not, however, look as discouraged as she had previously in the day. Mere minutes ago, in fact. This was indeed a good sign. Teal'c could not determine what of the mess surrounding her was relevant to her current approach. She picked up a crystal that had a fine fracture running all the way through it.

"I don't know how this got damaged, but at least it's not obliterated completely like the original," she said. She slipped the crystal into place. "Thank goodness the Goa'uld at least thought of packing spares, even if they put them in a place that took way too long to find."

"The Goa'uld may not have known of the auxiliary crystals' existence, Captain Carter. They have scavenged the use of Stargates just as they scavenge everything," Teal'c said.

"Really?" Captain Carter rose to her feet slowly, as if the simple action required great strength. "Why haven't you ever ment ... oh, never mind. That's not important. I really hope this works. Cross your fingers."

Teal'c still did not understand the command, but complied nonetheless. He would do well to transcribe every piece of cultural information of which Daniel Jackson enlightened him. The reference material might prove useful. Ah, he understood why Captain Carter often appeared annoyed when he revealed information about the Goa'uld. Her wish was likely very similar to his own, but in the reverse. He should have realized. It was small comfort that his knowledge would not have helped in this situation.

She leaned down and reset the Dial Home Device. Immediately, Teal'c heard it power up with a familiar whir. Captain Carter let out a faint gurgle, then, "Yes, yes, YES!"

Teal'c had never before heard such volume from Captain Carter, nor had he seen her express excitement in an open manner. It was not without merit. He tipped his head to her in agreement, taken further by surprise when she took a step toward him and then wrapped her arms around his midsection.

"It's working, it's working," she said into his chest.

And then she began to sob. Teal'c was out of his depth and extremely uncomfortable. The DHD now appeared functional; this was not an unwelcome occurrence. Captain Carter's tears made no sense to him. They were rather like O'Neill and Daniel Jackson's earlier guffaws, in the reverse. He understood her sudden tears as the very emotional outburst they were, but he did not understand human tendencies to allow such exhibition to occur. The Tau'ri were a most unusual people.

He patted Captain Carter on the back as he had seen done on television programming. Teal'c doubted the action could possibly convey the comfort Daniel Jackson had explained was the intention. Still, it was all he could do.

"What's going on?"

"Captain Carter has succeeded in repairing the Dial Home Device."

"That's great," O'Neill said.

Teal'c looked him.

"But why is she crying?"

"I do not know."

O'Neill muttered something Teal'c could not quite ascertain, though he did hear the words women and loco. He did not know the precise definition of loco, but given the tone and O'Neill's reluctance to utter the word at a greater volume, Teal'c believed it was denigration. He did not believe O'Neill should be so blithe to issue such slights, considering only several minutes ago he was himself in a hysterical state. Teal'c raised an eyebrow.

O'Neill looked abashed. "Probably because she's relieved and happy, huh?"

"That..." Captain Carter sniffled once and hiccupped twice. "...would be correct, sir."

She pulled away. Her face was reddened, particularly her nose, and her eyes still watered but Teal'c could see she was on her way to regaining control. Teal'c knew there could yet be much work to do. A functioning dial home device did not guarantee a functioning Stargate. Captain Carter rubbed at her face, and winced. Much of the redness was due to the sun rather than her bout of tears.

"I've got power to the DHD. I can't say for certain before I try it, but I think we're back in business, sir," Captain Carter said.

"That's good news, Carter, great job."

Teal'c could not agree more. The atmosphere on this planet did not bother him so much as the potential threat. His friends might remain unaware the bird creatures continued to monitor them with scrutiny, but he had known for some time that they were once again becoming agitated. He looked up briefly. Even now, the limbs of nearby trees were covered with the silent and wary beasts.

"Indeed," Teal'c said.

"Hey!" Daniel Jackson's weak shout was not one of panic, and yet it startled Teal'c.

His heart pounded harder while he determined the location of every creature, to ensure none of them had managed a secret attack on his friend. Teal'c turned toward the shelter, along with O'Neill and Captain Carter.

"Anyone want to tell me what's going on?"

"Sir, if this works, it's likely the only chance we're going to get. I don't think the repair job I did is going to last more than one 'gate activation."

"I'll go let Daniel in on the loop and get him ready. Thank goodness we won't be eating dandelion stew," O'Neill said, and trotted away.

To say he would be glad to finally be away from this planet was making a statement with less strength than was accurate. Though they had only been here for about twenty-four hours, their return to the SGC would coincide with their original, intended return. Their fortune might be changing. He hoped Captain Carter had indeed repaired the Dial Home Device, for if she hadn't he did not believe the tentative truce they had with the native creatures of this planet would continue.

"We should prepare as well," he said.

"You really think it'll work?"

He heard doubt in Captain Carter's voice. It was understandable, but they could not let doubt distract them. He began putting the few tools lying in the sand into his companion's pack. He withdrew the GDO and handed it to her. She smiled weakly at him.

"Good thing we still have one of these, and good timing, huh?" she said, waving the apparatus around. "Our code will still be active."

"We are fortunate to not spend another night on this planet."

Teal'c took in the dark circles under Captain Carter's eyes. Neither she nor O'Neill hand slept much, and he did not believe Daniel Jackson's fevered unconsciousness served as adequate rest. He looked up to the treetops, in time to see most of the creatures fly away. Those that remained were clearly on sentinel duty, watching to ensure SG-1 left them in peace. He did not believe he and his friends were considered threats any longer, yet the creatures had not changed their behavior toward them. They remained wary and watchful. In their position, he could not be certain he would not behave in the same manner.

"You're right, we should think positive," Captain Carter said.

"Indeed," he said.

He was aware that even if they were successful in leaving this place, SG-1 still had a large obstacle to overcome. They were as yet uncertain of the true cause for Daniel Jackson's paralysis. He did not know enough about Tau'ri healing methods to know if his condition could be remedied. On this subject, he was content to not think at all, for it was most difficult to remain positive. He had faith in Doctor Fraiser as a physician and friend, but her expertise might not be enough for this matter. He closed Captain Carter's pack, suddenly angry with himself for dwelling on the negative as he had instructed himself not to do.

"Teal'c, mind giving me a hand over here?" O'Neill called.

Daniel Jackson would not appreciate being carried through the Stargate. In this case, he did not think either he or O'Neill capable of handling their friend's weight on their own, and so Daniel did not face that particular event. He gave Captain Carter a reassuring nod and the GDO before he answered O'Neill's beckon. He stood slowly and moved toward their small campsite.

"And I think we should leave them this as part of their souvenir package," O'Neill was saying as he approached the shelter. "A gift to them, from me."

"I wish I understood your fixation with that thing," Daniel said.

O'Neill wadded up a swatch of green material and threw it over the shelter.

"On the other hand, I don't think I really want to know."

"Teal'c, hey," O'Neill greeted. "You want left or right side?"

The levity O'Neill displayed was forced. Assisting Daniel through the Stargate would serve as a very real reminder of the mysterious paralysis that plagued him. It was unavoidable. Rather than answer O'Neill, Teal'c simply moved to Daniel's right. Daniel clumsily propped himself on his elbows while he and O'Neill crouched beside him.

"On three?" O'Neill looked at him over Daniel's head, then glanced toward the Stargate.

If it was a silent inquiry about the success of Captain Carter's endeavors, Teal'c could but tilt his head in a non-committal affirmative.

"One, two, three." O'Neill grunted the last number of his count, straining against the weight of a body unable to assist.

The tang of his own sweat mingled with that of his friends. Teal'c hoped they would be permitted a shower before their routine physical examinations upon returning to the SGC. Beneath his hold, Daniel quivered slightly. He frowned; Daniel would not have the luxury of a shower. Now it was his turn to glance over to O'Neill, who it seemed also found himself thinking about unfortunate circumstances. The other man might think himself subtle, but Teal'c knew that O'Neill's focus was not on their path but on Daniel Jackson's unmoving legs.

"Let's see if this works," O'Neill said as they drew close to Captain Carter.

She looked at them, her gaze like O'Neill's lingering on Daniel's legs, and she nodded. Captain Carter shook visibly, likely from exhaustion as well as apprehension, as she pressed the first glyph. The familiar sound of it clonking and the Stargate engaging was music quite welcome to his ears. Teal'c gripped Daniel tighter, while O'Neill issued a whoop of relief.

"Way to go Sam," Daniel said quietly.

She smiled, but shook her head.

"I didn't really do much."

Captain Carter's hands shook less while she finished dialing the proper sequence for Earth, evidence now only of tiredness. As much as he felt compelled to watch every moment to ensure their departure was imminent, Teal'c once again looked to the trees. The remaining creatures watched SG-1 as attentively as ever.

"It is unfortunate there is not a way to inform the creatures of this planet that if they wish to avoid further outside contact, that they must simply bury the Stargate," he said loudly.

"Teal'c, why are you shouting?" O'Neill asked, then paused to look at Captain Carter. "Why is Teal'c shouting?"

"Because he believes the birds understand us somehow," Captain Carter said. She input the IDC for SG-1. "And he might be right."

"You said there were lots of them." The muscles in Daniel's shoulders vibrated even more, evidence of how weakened by illness and fever was his body.

Teal'c clenched his jaw.

Daniel spoke more loudly, "All they have to do is tip the gate over and cover it."

"Oh, okay, I get it," O'Neill said. "I'll bet it wouldn't hurt for them to cover it with something more solid than sand first. Rocks, maybe, or tree branches."

"I believe we have given them sufficient information."

In all honesty, Teal'c was more than ready to leave this place and did not think it prudent to linger longer than necessary. The Stargate appeared to be functioning properly, but they did not know if their luck would last. He should have made an attempt to have their stolen equipment returned to them. There was no time for that now. It would remain by the hatching pond, and do no harm.

"I suppose. It's not like we have the address to dial back to see if they took the hint."

"All right, not to put a rush on this, but Daniel's getting a little heavy," O'Neill said. "What have you been eating, anyway?"

"Ha ha, Jack."

Daniel was, in fact, not a great burden. Tau'ri humor was not amusing.

~~*~~

"The gate on P9C-742 doesn't appear to be functioning any longer," Carter said, chewing her lip and flipping through the papers in front of her. "We ran a diagnostic to make sure it wasn't something on our end, and all other planets dial fine."

Of course it wasn't a malfunction at the SGC. Jack didn't know anything about Carter's diagnostics or whatever the technicians in the control room did. He didn't have to. He would bet his next month's pay that bastard Bajiar and his band of miserable thugs had fixed it so no one could upset their balance again. The Wiutehians, the rich ones, didn't look like they needed intergalactic trade alliances. All they needed was to keep on being parasites, undisturbed. He stared at the table in front of him so hard he might burn holes in it, fingers drumming an aggravated beat. He reached for the pitcher of water for the umpteenth time, unable to quench his thirst in the two days they'd been back at the SGC. He doubted the antibiotic regimen they were all on was to blame.

"It is highly probable the Wiutehians have purposely blocked their Stargate from us," Teal'c said what Carter seemed to have a problem coming out and saying. "They would do so in order to prevent future disruption of their ... choice of lifestyle."

Jack snorted. Choice of lifestyle, his ass. Teal'c was being way too kind. If Daniel's hypothesis was right, which Jack knew it was for sheer sake of being Daniel's hypothesis, those people were nothing but slimy, no-good parasites. His gut told him they could fix whatever was wrong with Daniel if only he could get his friend back to that damned planet.

"Captain?" General Hammond said softly.

"It's a possibility, sir."

"Of course it is," Jack snapped, banging his fist on the table and watching the water fly out of his glass, into a semi-circular pattern. "They knew where they were sending us, but they also knew they had to cover their asses, because once we found out what happened to Daniel there was no way we wouldn't find a way to get back. Goddamn deserted island or not."

"Colonel," Hammond said, warning obvious. "I understand you're upset, but please refrain from the outbursts."

Jack looked up, finding Hammond, Carter and Teal'c all staring at him. He couldn't remain calm while one of his team was down in the infirmary, possibly crippled for life. Especially Daniel, if he were going to be honest. It was ironic. Of the four of them, Daniel was probably the one best suited for such a life-altering state. Teal'c thrived on being a warrior. So did he, and while Carter had her whatever-science-she-did to fall back on, she'd chosen the active life of an airman. But Daniel, Daniel could still have an active, fulfilling life on base. The logic made him choke, though it had come from Daniel himself had not more than an hour ago.

"Yes, sir," Jack said thickly. "Sorry, sir."

"We don't know what might have caused the malfunction on their end, and the fact is it doesn't matter. We can't get there, so it is not a resource to help with Doctor Jackson's condition." The general stood, walking toward the window to gaze down at the gateroom, hands clasped behind him. "Doctor Fraiser will join us shortly to provide an update."

Rubbing at his temples, headache from the heat exhaustion and dehydration lingering, Jack wasn't sure he wanted to hear what Fraiser had to report. Unless she walked in with a big smile on her face, the rest of this meeting wasn't going to end well. He didn't know what he'd expected to happen upon getting home. A miracle, maybe. The healing power of the SGC. Magic Earth medicine to erase all alien illnesses.

"We don't even know for sure Daniel's condition has anything to do with P9C-742," Carter said hesitantly, sitting next to him. "It's all conjecture. The man Daniel came in contact with was only partially impaired, and by Daniel's theory he was someone who's health was taken. He shouldn't have been able to draw Daniel's good health and leave him with full paralysis. It doesn't make sense. Unless there's enough difference in our biology, maybe?"

"Oh, for Pete's sake." Jack pushed away from the table, standing and pacing. "If one more person says 'Daniel's condition' like it's a friggin' case of the measles, I am seriously going to lose it. He's paralyzed, as in confined to a wheelchair, as in can never walk through the Stargate again."

Silence fell over the room. Whoops, Jack had forgotten to refrain from outbursting. He admitted that at first he had a hard time saying it, too, but tiptoeing around the issue was worse in many ways. Judging from the wet look in Carter's eyes, she hadn't reached the stage where she could think about it as a permanent situation yet. Jack didn't want to imagine it - Doctor Daniel Jackson never being able to go through the thing he made happen. It broke Jack's heart in its cruelty. The worst part was not knowing why. A staff blast to the back would have been less painful to deal with.

"Jack," Hammond said, right next to him. "Maybe you should sit back down."

He swayed on his feet, mouth like cotton yet again. Jack refilled his glass, swallowing the cool liquid as if it pained him. Sitting, he shook his head just a little toward Carter. It was the only apology he could offer. Everyone was doing their jobs here. He was the one who kept derailing them. He couldn't get Daniel's sad, accepting smile out of his head. It was like the guy was really okay with everything.

"We have encountered numerous peoples," Teal'c said. "Perhaps one of them will be able to lend assistance on this matter."

"Teal'c, that's not ... I mean..." Carter trailed off for a second. "Nearly every culture we've met so far has been way behind us in the fields of science and technology. And the ones who are ahead want nothing to do with us."

Before they could travel down that useless road again, Fraiser walked in. She held a manila folder in front of her, arms crossed, like a shield. She wasn't smiling. Her expression remained unreadable as she glanced at all of them, taking a seat when the general ushered her to. When she looked at Jack, she blanched.

"I'm sorry to have kept you waiting," Fraiser said.

"It's all right, Doctor," Hammond said. "What can you tell us?"

"As you know, we've run a gamut of tests on Doctor Jackson. On all of you, actually." Fraiser flipped the manila folder open, leafing through it. "So far everything's come back clean."

"Even on Daniel?" Carter asked.

"Yes, even on Daniel. That doesn't mean something won't eventually present."

That sounded an awful lot like Fraiser didn't really think so to Jack. He sat up straighter, glaring at the doctor, as if that would make a difference. He should know better by now. He'd been glaring for days and Daniel still couldn't move his legs.

"That also doesn't mean I'll stop running tests," Fraiser said, holding up a hand defensively. "I'm re-running what we've already done, in the hopes there was a false negative."

"Is that likely?" Teal'c asked.

Fraiser stared at the table in front of her, and the room was swallowed by silence. That was more answer than anything else could have been. After a moment, she cleared her throat.

"Now, you said that after you left P9C-742, Daniel came down with a fever and lost consciousness for an extended period."

"That's right," Jack said. He wasn't likely to forget those hours for a long time.

"It's possible whatever has affected Daniel was brought on by the fever. Or the fever was the carrier for some alien pathogen that disappeared once it inflicted whatever damage it did. It could be nerve damage I can't detect here."

"But you don't know," Hammond said. "It could be anything."

"Yes, sir." Fraiser looked upset. "I wish I had more to tell you all at this point. Until I can figure this out, I recommend Doctor Jackson be transferred to Academy. I'll have access to more equipment and specialists there. Daniel can also begin physiotherapy and education about his..."

Oh, god, here it came.

"...condition."

"Request permission to be dismissed, sir," Jack said abruptly, already at the door before he heard his CO's disapproval. He kept walking.

The room had become too stuffy. He couldn't go back. He ignored the general calling after him. Stalking through the corridors, Jack didn't even know where he was going until he got there. Once he did realize, it took everything in him not to turn around and head somewhere else just as blindly. Before he could, Daniel looked up and saw him. The wincing smile he shot Jack trapped him as surely as a spider web traps a fly.

"Hey, Jack," Daniel said.

"Hey."

He approached the bed, every step making his gut hurt worse. It was getting more difficult, not less, to visit Daniel. Jack was only human, after all. His eyes drifted to Daniel's covered legs. There he was at it again, staring as if that could make things different. When he looked away, he caught Daniel catching him in the act. He tried to hold back a cringe, failing miserably.

"You just got done talking with Doctor Fraiser." Daniel fiddled with the fraying edge of his thin hospital blanket. "She went over it all with me before she went to the briefing."

"You probably know more than I do," Jack said. He sat down on the edge of the bed, conscious of Daniel's legs not shifting over to make room. "I left early."

"Why?"

"Oh, you know. Headache."

Daniel shook his head.

Yeah, Daniel was right. The headache excuse didn't ever fly for anyone, did it? Pity, because now his head really did hurt. Jack shifted, trying to get comfortable. The extendable bed tray had food on it from lunch. He picked up the untouched applesauce and a spoon, holding them up in askance. He started eating it at Daniel's nod, but it was flavorless on his tongue, the texture mealy. He put it back down after two spoonfuls.

"Doctor Fraiser said that at Academy I'll learn how to deal with the challenges of my new body," Daniel said. "There's apparently a whole set of instructions I'll have to learn. Just when I thought I had things figured out. Anyway, once I get up to speed, I'll be able to come back to work. With my skill at languages, I should still be able to help out around here. And I can keep tabs on you, which is a bonus."

Jack clenched his jaw. They'd had this conversation already, he and Daniel. Multiple times. The way he saw it, Daniel repeating it now meant he hadn't really believed this was how it was going to be permanently, that he'd retained some hope. That hope was waning, or was gone, and Jack didn't know how to deal with its loss in himself, let alone Daniel. He wasn't even sure why he cared so much. He barely knew Daniel, all things considered, so it shouldn't be hitting him this hard. And yet it was. Somehow his teammates had all wormed their way into his sphere of concern far faster than they should have.

"Doctor Fraiser isn't convinced about my theory, did she tell you that before you left? Something about the man being only partially lame, so my complete paralysis doesn't make sense in that context. I think Sam agrees with her." Daniel looked thoughtful, and so damned sad. "I suppose there's no way to prove it now, is there? The best thing to do is learn how to deal with it. At least you and Sam and Teal'c will still be out there, looking for Sha're and Ska'ara."

"Don't talk like it's all over," Jack said, voice harsh. He cleared his throat, wishing again for water. "We'll, Carter'll, figure out a way to get back to P9C-742, make them fix it. Or Fraiser will find some medical miracle. She always does."

Jack didn't know that at all, of course. He was talking out of his ass. He knew it and he knew Daniel knew it. The number of things thrown at them since the SGC had been a viable program was too great to count on always wiggling out of sticky situations. The odds wouldn't support that idea. A penny wouldn't always land face up; it was statistically unlikely. Jack supposed he should be grateful that in this case it was localized, personal rather than global. But he wasn't grateful at all.

"No, Jack," Daniel said quietly. "I've been thinking about this. Even if we do find a way back to Wiutehia, I don't want that."

It took a second for that to sink in. Bolting off the bed as if it had started on fire, Jack moved back a step. He had a wild thought that Daniel's brain must have been affected in some way that they'd missed in the million tests he'd been subjected to. It had to have been. There was no sign of insanity on Daniel's face.

"What?" was all Jack managed to squeeze past a tight throat. He swallowed. "What did you just say?"

"If I'm right, that man can walk again. Maybe he can make a difference on their world. Maybe he can make a difference to his family," Daniel said. "Maybe he already has. I won't take that away from him just so I can be magically healed. It's not worth it."

Unbelievable. Jack had no idea if Daniel was that noble a human being, or if his self-worth was so far in the crapper he didn't realize he was worth healing. Either way, it was unacceptable.

"You can't be serious." Jack leaned on the foot of the bed. "Since when are you one to give up?"

"I'm not giving up, Jack. I'm accepting that my life from now on will be different. It's okay. I'll be okay."

Daniel sounded rational, making his words all the more nonsensical to Jack. He opened and shut his mouth, unable to trust himself to speak without anger.

"Do you know Newton's Third Law?" Daniel said, carrying on as if he were actually speaking to himself. His voice was gentle, almost out-of-body. "Of course you do. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. That's what's going on here. If we go back and my paralysis is due to that man in the slums... I can't do it, Jack. I cannot take away what he might have been given because of this, not when I can live a perfectly fulfilling life. Because he can't. He doesn't have that luxury."

So it was mostly Daniel being noble. That didn't make Jack feel better at all.

~~*~~

Sam lurked in the hallway like a kid eavesdropping on late night adult conversation. She'd spent lots of time as a small girl doing the same, sneaking down after being put to bed to listen to her mom and dad talk about things she did not understand. She found she didn't fully understand what she was hearing now, or maybe just didn't want to. And her reasons for lurking were far less innocent than they'd been when she was a child. She wasn't trying to spy in the hopes of catching some juicy tidbit or gossip. It was just that she couldn't seem to bring herself to round the corner yet.

"You won't have as big a threat from pressure sores as some of our patients," a woman's voice floated out of the room. "You're young and I'm guessing you're active?"

"I try to be," Daniel said with a soft laugh.

"That's good, but you're going to have to be aware of the possibility. It's a bit of a learning curve when you first start out. If we can get you on a schedule quickly, it should be a non-issue."

Sam smiled sadly, picturing Daniel so wrapped up in whatever project was on his desk that he would forget he couldn't sit around for days. Oh, god, except that was all he could do. Her stomach twisted into a tiny ball, the way it always did when she thought about Daniel now. It wasn't right, and she knew she was being a horrible friend. A horrible person. She simply had no idea how to deal. Coming to the hospital for a visit was supposed to have been the start of a new attitude, and here she was hiding like a frightened rabbit. Somewhere deep inside her, she thought that if she didn't see Daniel's disability, then it wasn't real.

"We'll also be working on building your upper body strength. I think you'll find it won't be difficult at all."

Taking a deep breath, Sam closed her eyes and counted to five. If she weren't ready by then, she'd turn around. No one would be the wiser. She'd tell the colonel she tried. When she closed her eyes, she saw Daniel's face looking at her. He wasn't recriminatory, which actually only made her cowardice worse. It'd been too long since she seen him, and she truly did have things to discuss with him. If it could be called discussion.

She had been asked and then ordered on a fool's errand, and she knew it. The colonel had insisted Sam was the only one who hadn't tried 'talking some sense' into Daniel. It was true only because she was the only one who hadn't been to the hospital, and that made this all the worse. Even Teal'c had found a way to visit.

Sam shoved her broken heart aside, straightening her shoulders and entering Daniel's room with a bright smile on her face. Daniel sat by the window. For a second, he looked so normal and healthy she could almost swear he was. Then Sam saw the wheels of his chair and it all came back. A curly-headed woman in scrubs was perched on the arm of the room's plush chair.

"Oh, hello," the woman said, looking up from Daniel's chart. "You must be a friend of Daniel's. I'm Maggie Grayson. I've been working with Daniel on the various therapies we'll be employing as part of his treatment."

"Nice to meet you. I'm Sam. Captain Samantha Carter," Sam said, satisfied when she didn't sound like she was choking. She felt like she was. "I don't mean to interrupt."

"Not at all. We were just finishing up. I'll see you tomorrow, okay, Daniel? Nice to see you here, Sam."

Sam nodded like a stupid bobble-head doll, kept nodding as Maggie left the room. She turned, gaze lingering on the door. Taking another breath, Sam returned her attention to her friend, smile still plastered on her face. She willed herself to look at only his face. Not the legs. Not the wheelchair. Had it really only been just over a week?

"Hi, Daniel," she said.

"Hey, Sam," he said.

They stared at each other for a few moments, neither of them really sure where to go. It was awkward and familiar, like she had never met Daniel before and was a childhood friend all at the same time. That's how it always had been with Daniel, from the second she'd met him. For the first time, though, it was more awkward than comfortable.

"So, uh, how've you been?" he asked with a smile. "I haven't seen you in a while."

Just like the Daniel in her head, there was no hint of recrimination in real Daniel, either, no hint that he was angry she'd essentially abandoned him. It made her queasy with guilt.

"I've been busy." She sounded defensive. "I've been helping Janet ... Doctor Fraiser as often as I can, though so far there hasn't been cause to think my expertise might lend anything to it. And General Hammond doesn't want me to stop looking for a way to return to P9C-742. I haven't made much progress, I'm afraid. From what I could see, their technology trumped ours at every turn, and if we were able to construct an impenetrable shield I don't really know what they might have come up with. Not only that, but I've got Col..."

"Sam," Daniel interrupted her. "You're babbling."

"Oh," Sam said. "I am? I guess I am."

"It's okay, you know." He kept smiling up at her. They were certainly doing a lot of smiling. "Hey, what do you say we go out for a walk? It's a nice day, and it'd be good to get some fresh air."

She nodded weakly, not knowing how to tell him no. The only reason she had to hesitate was outside, in the great wide open, it would be even more obvious that she was uncomfortable. More, it would be impossible to pretend Daniel was wheeling around instead of walking. Sam cringed internally. There was something wrong with her.

"What's in the bag?"

"Oh, cookies," she said. She'd forgotten. Sam clung to the paper bag as if it were a life preserver. "There's a new bakery up the street from my house. I thought you might like something besides hospital food."

Daniel laughed. "Yeah, even if it's temporary I do get tired of the bland choices. Bring them with?"

"Okay."

Sam didn't know what to do. She started reaching out to push Daniel, but put her arms back down. Thankfully for her, Daniel didn't seem to notice her disconcertion as he wheeled to the door. She followed dumbly, face still frozen in a smile. They walked in silence through a short corridor, to the elevator and then out onto the grassy grounds. Wide sidewalks wound around, and there were plenty of benches and tables around.

"It's good to get practice in out here, but I'm nervous about how I'm going to get around at home." Daniel pulled up to a picnic table, gesturing for her to sit. "Tight corners are tricky."

Her stomach did another strange jump. While she'd buried herself on base, Colonel O'Neill had spent his spare time outfitting Daniel's apartment with ramps and hand bars. He'd insisted on making everything temporary, so convinced he was that Daniel's condition wasn't permanent. The kitchen counters were too high, but short of moving Daniel into a new place, they'd have to stay. The colonel had been really worried about that, as if Daniel spent a lot of time at home cooking.

"You don't have to pretend you're okay for me," Daniel said, breaking into her thoughts.

She startled, blinking at him with a puzzled smile. "What do you mean?"

"Sam, if you don't stop smiling your face is going to crack. Just ... relax. Part of the education around here is learning how other people will react. It's okay to be freaked out. I won't take it personally."

Spoken like a man who'd had to reiterate something similar a million times over. He probably had, but she wouldn't know that because she had been a terrible friend. Sam let her smile drop, and for a second she thought Daniel had been right. Her cheeks felt sore. She raised a hand to rub at them, suddenly self-conscious.

"I'm trying not to freak out," she said. Now that she wasn't smiling, though, the urge to cry swelled. "I keep thinking it's not real."

"Is that why you've stayed away?"

Sam gasped, the question like a blow to her gut. Daniel was there, acting like he was okay with her avoidance, she knew it wasn't reasonable for that to be true. And this question made that clear. She looked him in the eyes, seeing a glimmer of something. Anger. Sorrow. She couldn't lie her way out of anything, so she'd have to admit she was not a good friend.

"Partially. It's like ... if I didn't see you, if I didn't see this," Sam thumped the arm of the wheelchair, relieved to be saying it out loud, "then maybe I'll wake up and we'll be gearing up to go on another mission. And I keep thinking there's something I should be able to do to fix this. There has to be something, some way to work around the problem with the gate on P9C-742."

"It's like I told Jack, Sam, I won't go back there if that poor man has actually transferred his affliction on me," Daniel replied automatically. "There's no need to waste your time anymore. I'm fine. Really."

Ah. She believed Daniel, but at the same time could not stop thinking that no one could be so well-adjusted days after losing the use of his legs. It did not make sense to her. She couldn't reconcile it with the Daniel she knew. The colonel going off on frustrated tangents about Daniel should have forewarned her, but she hadn't really understood where he'd been coming from. She'd been too wrapped up in her own angst.

"Are you fine, Daniel?" she asked. She sat on the edge of the picnic table bench. "This is a lot to handle all at once. No one would bat an eyelash if you were less than okay."

She put a hand on his arm, the first time she'd touched him since they'd come back from the deserted beach planet. Sam felt Daniel's forearm muscles tighten, as if he were going to pull away. She just held on tighter, finding that now she had something besides her own inadequacies to concentrate on, she could look at Daniel as Daniel and not some man in a wheelchair. If she was guilty of avoidance, she wondered if everyone else had been as well. She feared Daniel had become lost in the shuffle, which did nothing to ease her guilt. It did, however, make it somewhat easier for her to push him.

"I don't know what you want me to say, Sam."

"Say you're angry. Say you're scared. Tell me how you really feel. You don't have to pretend you're okay for me, or anyone else."

The door was open now, and Sam was scared of what might come through. Up until now, she'd kept herself guarded from anything hurtful. From the truth. If anything, that tactic had only made her feel awful. Now that she was there, looking her fear and dread in the face, she felt immeasurably better. Maybe bringing Daniel to the same sort of realization was worth the pain.

"You came all this way after a week of conspicuous absence to lecture me? To coach me on how I should be feeling and reacting?" Daniel looked at her sadly. "I'm not just saying it. I really am fine. Life goes on."

She searched his eyes. It hadn't taken her long to find out that was the key to understanding Daniel Jackson. The eyes were the windows to the soul for some more than others. Actually, this was true for all three of her teammates. Men of few words but deep stores of emotion. He was angry. She could see it and she couldn't blame him.

After a few seconds, Daniel broke eye contact, looking down at his left hand.

"You're a better person than I am, Daniel. You're part of something bigger than life. If I were you, I'd hate losing the chance to go through the Stargate, at the very least." Her heart rate jumped as she determined where she had to go. Sam didn't know if she could. She swallowed, looking at Daniel's legs for the first time in a week. "I'd hate losing the chance of finding my wife. I'd do anything to get that chance back."

She glanced up at Daniel's face. His focus remained on his hand. He looked different, not quite himself. His expression was hard and closed-off. That was all it took to change him from the person she was starting to love dearly to a stranger. Oh, crap, she couldn't believe she'd actually said that to him. It was unforgivable. The lowest blow anyone could deliver.

"Oh, Sam, that's not fair," Daniel said. "And that's Jack talking, not you. You don't think I realize all of that? It's my legs that don't work, not my brain."

She realized the colonel had made a tactical error, and used her to do it. No, Sam couldn't hold anyone else accountable for her mistakes. If she'd visited Daniel earlier on her own terms, she'd never have come as Colonel O'Neill's ambassador on a mission she wasn't even sure was valid. Upon first seeing Daniel, she understood her CO's instincts. It was hurtful as hell to see Daniel resigned to his fate, embracing it, even. If hammering on about P9C-742 brought about a reaction, that was supposed to mean something. She shouldn't have judged the situation without knowing anything about it. One look in Daniel's eyes now, and all she saw was hurt and unshed tears and proof she was awful.

"Daniel, I'm sorry. The colonel, he just doesn't want you to give up," she said, a lame attempt to justify. She couldn't.

"You think I don't know this keeps me from finding my wife? I think about that every day. Tell Jack that. Every single minute of every single day I know I can't do anything to bring her back to me." Daniel's face was flushed slightly, two bright spots of color on his cheeks. "Not being willing to go back to that planet is not the same thing as giving up. Right now, I don't see many options, but if there were some other means to solve this you have to know I'd take them."

The world was a blurred mess, hot tears welling up in her eyes too. Sam had asked for this. She was stupid. They all were.

"Of course I'm angry. Of course I don't want to be this way. Talking about it doesn't help. All I can do at this point is move forward, but no one else wants to let me. You all keep coming around, reminding me how I'm not normal. It's like I'm not a person anymore." Daniel finished speaking, slightly out of breath.

Around them, birds chirped and a lawnmower droned by, but the only sounds Sam really heard were Daniel's harsh breaths and her own resonating in her skull as if it were an empty cavern. They sat without speaking. She didn't know what she could possibly say. She accomplished her task, but at a high cost.

"Well," Daniel said quietly, after a minute. "I guess I had a lot to get off my chest after all. You okay?"

Sam gave a soft half-laugh, half-sob, relieved the silence had been broken but still uncertain where to go from here. There was really only one way.

"I'm so sorry, Daniel," she said. "For not being here for you when I should have been."

"It's fine, Sam. I meant it when I said it was okay to freak out. I guess I should have taken my own advice earlier. That was exhausting."

She rubbed at her nose, brushing an errant tear away. Straightening, Sam willed her inner coward away. She looked at Daniel, all of him, with a smile that was more genuine than any she'd given lately.

"You know what will help with that?"

Daniel shook his head.

"A cookie," she said, picking up the bag, opening it and sticking her nose in for a deep inhalation. "Mmm."

"Give me one of those already," Daniel said.

They munched cookies together in the sunshine. Catching Daniel looking at passersby wistfully, Sam vowed she'd devote her spare time to finding an actual way to help him. They didn't know for sure what was causing the paralysis. There were lots of alternative treatments out there on Earth; the same should be true for the whole universe. No more putting all the apples in one basket, not when what might work just as well were oranges.

~~*~~

In most ways, his life was completely the way it used to be. He did the same things he had always done, sometimes in a more creative or occasionally painful way. He got out of bed, he brushed his teeth. He ate food, he exercised. He'd eventually go back to work. On paper, everything looked fine. On the inside, Daniel felt like he was falling apart. One minute he was coping well, the next he had to quell unfocused rage. There was scarily little difference between the two. Apparently that was how he was supposed to be feeling. It was terrifying and exhausting.

Yes, he had accepted paralysis was most likely permanent for him. All of the poking and prodding he'd undergone in the last twelve days revealed nothing concrete about the cause. He didn't fault Doctor Fraiser for being unable to find the source of his paralysis. The best she could do was narrow it down to a nerve condition stemming from what she called T12, and an alien one at that. His treatment was devised based only on this conjecture.

"Just five more reps, Daniel, and you're done for the day," Maggie said.

He pushed himself, fighting past the extremely odd sensation of taxed upper body muscles and absolutely no feeling from his lower half. He could only take her word that this was doing him any good at all. Yes, Daniel did nearly everything he used to do, but at this point he did nothing alone except sleep. Despite the near-constant companions, he had never felt so alone.

"That's great. You're coming along well."

"Thanks," he said breathlessly. His arms felt like rubber, the workout more taxing than usual today. He took a moment before he maneuvered himself from the raised platform to his wheelchair. He could do that all by himself now. "It feels good."

It did. He had to keep himself focused on the positive, which he knew frustrated the hell out of Jack O'Neill. Unloading on Sam didn't change that much, really, except it gave Daniel voice where he had had none. Now his friends got frustrated, but they understood better. That was something.

"Think you're up for a shower by yourself today?" Maggie asked.

"I think I might actually be." He truly was a big boy now.

It was customary for Maggie to walk him back to his room. Today was no different. He did enjoy her company, for the most part. When he had to, Daniel could pretend they were friends, not patient and practitioner. He certainly liked her better than the psychologist he had to see. But the illusion of friendship always burst when Maggie started talking shop, introducing new therapies or gauging his muscle tone.

"It's your last night in the hospital. You excited to get home?" Maggie said as they reached his door.

"Yes, actually," he said, meaning it.

She patted him on the shoulder, leaving him to the task of opening the door.

Daniel leaned for the door handle, pushing the door open with his wheels. It would be nice to get into a space bigger than a breadbox, to be rid of the antiseptic smell of a hospital. If he were honest, though, it also scared the crap out of him. He trusted Jack had set everything up for him, but he felt like he'd be exploring a whole new planet. Daniel grabbed a clean pair of sweats, angrily plopping them on his useless lap. He'd never explore a whole new planet again. A burgeoning feeling of resentment grew within him. Once again, he halted it before it swallowed him whole. He had a random thought of the slums on Wiutehia.

"You look like you're going to be sick. You okay?" Maggie asked, reminding him he wasn't alone.

"I'm fine." He looked up at her, fending off her concern with a weak smile. "I thought I was going to get to do this alone."

"Ah, you are, but I'm staying out here to make sure everything goes smoothly. I know you're tired of flashing your man-bits at me, but trust me, I'm no longer impressed."

"That means you were impressed to start, right?" he said, forgetting himself for a moment. "I'll remember that."

"Oh, you. Here I thought you didn't have that male ego thing. Go scrub that luscious bod of yours." Maggie's eyes gleamed, like she actually meant it.

It was as alarming as it was welcome. Or maybe it was just alarming because it was welcome. Daniel liked the evidence that he was still a person.

"Speaking of luscious bods, your colonel friend's due to stop by any time now, isn't he?"

"Ah, so you just want to hang out here because you've got a crush on my friend?" Daniel rolled his eyes, then rolled into the bathroom, calling as he shut the door, "You could do so much better."

Her response was muffled by the door, but he could guess it anyway. He concentrated on the task at hand. They'd been practicing in stages. Maggie said he was far more advanced at this early point in his paralysis than most patients, which heartened him. He might be feeding delusions, but it gave him hope that someday he could get out of the chair. At the very least, it was nice to be able to take off his own pants even if it still took him ten minutes to do so.

Everything went well in spite of his unusual fatigue, until Daniel tried to transfer from his wheelchair to the shower chair. His arms might have been too tired from the PT session, or maybe he didn't have the right balance going. All he really knew was that he had a tight grip on the side of the shower and the assist bar, and then he was mysteriously ass over teakettle on the cold tile floor, with a dull thumping in his head and bright lights in his eyes.

"Daniel, are you all right in there?" Maggie called. Oh. It was her fist on the door that was making the pounding noise.

He tried to answer her. He was too confused.

"I'm coming in." The announcement came a millisecond before Maggie burst into the room, a scared but also calm expression on her face.

Daniel finally had the wherewithal to wriggle his way onto his elbows, vaguely noticing the wheelchair was on its side and one of the wheels was spinning and spinning. Whoops. He watched Maggie right the chair before patting his naked body down for signs of injury he couldn't detect himself.

"I'm fine," he said. "Really embarrassed, but fine, I think. Am I fine?"

"Yes, you're fine. Looks like you've got a welt on your right cheekbone. What happened?"

"I'm not sure." He started to smile, sliding down until he was flat on his back again. "It's just that I've fallen and I can't get up."

She started laughing, and he couldn't help but join her. He could only imagine what they looked like, him stark naked and her pretty much on top of him. It was a good thing he was neither shy nor unaccustomed to being naked in her presence, or this would be incredibly embarrassing. After a minute, instinctual worry and fear worked its way through both of their systems, their laughter subsiding. The tile was becoming really uncomfortable on his shoulder blades. His butt was probably freezing.

"So maybe I still need a little help with the bathroom stuff," he said.

"I like a man who knows his limitations. Come on, let's get you up. You're going to have to do some of the work."

He used his arms while she struggled with his legs. They were halfway through their odd game of Twister when Daniel heard a faint knock on the room door, followed by a hesitant, recognizable voice as someone entered.

"Oh, no," he said into Maggie's curly hair. "Jack."

Before either of them could head Jack off at the pass with a shout, Daniel saw motion out of the corner of his eye. He looked toward the bathroom entrance, right up at Jack O'Neill who, for the first time since Daniel had returned to Earth from Abydos, appeared absolutely stunned into silence. His eyes roamed up and down the scene, eyebrows rising at the placement of Maggie's hands on Daniel's bare thighs.

"Hi, there. Would you mind closing the door, Colonel O'Neill?" Maggie asked sweetly, startling Jack out of his stupor. "We're in the middle of a new therapy for Daniel."

Jack immediately reached for the handle, mouth still agape, shutting the door so fast a cold breeze wafted over Daniel and Maggie.

It was so far beyond humiliating, all Daniel could do was exchange a look with Maggie and start laughing again. And then he was crying, the transition so seamless he didn't know his emotion had switched until he was in the shower chair and Maggie handed him a tissue. Mood swings would be the death of him. Like the laughter, he couldn't seem to stop the tears from erupting. While Maggie made quick work of bathing him, he snuffled like a two-year-old all the way through. He was still going at it when she helped him tug on his sweats, though the tears were mostly dried up by then. She said nothing, letting him get it all out of his system. There was no choice in that regard. He had no control, not now, and not in the countless other times he'd smiled and raged and sobbed all in the blink of an eye.

"Sorry," he said at last.

"Hey, don't worry about it," she said. "You ready to go face the music?"

Jack had seen him naked many times. They were often in the locker room together, pre and post mission. And like he'd said, he wasn't body-conscious despite the overwhelming militaristic nature of the SGC. But this was different. Daniel nodded, though. He didn't think there was any way around it. No window to escape out of, and even if there were he was on the fifth floor and legless. He let Maggie lead the way, hanging back on the off chance Jack had fled the room.

No such luck. Jack slouched in the armchair, looking antsy and awkward. He was toying with a pitcher of water, flipping the lid up and down.

Maggie smiled awkwardly and left the room, abandoning Daniel without so much as a by-your-leave.

"Hi, Jack," Daniel said, cheeks flushing. "You're a little early."

It had taken the better part of the week for him and Jack to be on semi-easy terms with each other, their conversations usually filled with arguments Daniel found tiring and pointless. Since Sam's visit, Jack had been less bullheaded. Maybe he'd been less bullheaded himself. Whatever it was, he hoped Jack seeing him in such a vulnerable state wouldn't be a setback. The few times he didn't feel so alone had all been in scattered, seldom moments with his friends.

"Yeah, uh," Jack said, clearly at a loss, looking everywhere but at Daniel.

Daniel couldn't take that.

"Well, don't get used to the pre-visit show. This was a one-time deal."

Jack gaped at him for a full ten seconds, which Daniel had to admit was worth the cost of his wounded pride. Who knew one look at a bar ass could silence a man who had a comeback for every situation. Well, maybe not every.

"Don't flatter yourself." Jack cleared his throat, dunking a finger in the water pitcher and flicking droplets on his leg. "You wouldn't believe the things I've seen in my lifetime."

Relief washed through him, leaving his limbs slightly tingly from fear-induced adrenaline. Truthfully, now that it was all over, Daniel was more embarrassed about the crying jag Jack had to have heard than he was about the humiliating grope and grab with Maggie. It wasn't very manly to cry, after all, and Jack was all about the military hard edge.

"You okay, though?" Jack pointed to Daniel's face. "You've got a bruise."

"I had a little tumble, that's all," Daniel said. "Maggie had to lend a hand. Sorry you had to see that."

Jack frowned, setting the pitcher down. He stood, moving toward the window. He looked out at the rain, which ruined their usual visit habit - chess at one of the picnic tables.

"Like I said, nothing I haven't seen before."

"Of course," Daniel said. "How are things at the SGC?"

"Good. Weird without you there," Jack said, wincing toward the rain-streaked window as if he'd said something terrible.

"I think it'll only be a week or two more before I can start office hours. It's a shame it took this long for anyone to think about access for the disabled, though."

He saw the muscles in Jack's cheek bunch up. Jack hated the word disabled, Daniel knew, but it was unavoidable. The communication dance they had going required Jack to sidestep now. Daniel sensed there was something more.

"What's on your mind, Jack?"

"Hammond wants SG-1 back on active duty. He's making me choose a new ... you."

Hearing that stung more than Daniel thought it would. He'd prepared himself for it, knowing it was inevitable. He had absolutely no expectation SG-1 wouldn't go on without him, but his life at the SGC had quickly become more than his need to find Sha're. He could accept his new life, but at this point he couldn't keep from looking back at his old one. It had only been months since the SGC was even formed, yet somehow it seemed like everything.

"Of course he does. That's good," he said, voice sounding faint through a sudden ringing in his ears. "You guys need to be out there."

"Yeah, I suppose. But there can never be a new you."

He could barely hear Jack, either. Odd. Daniel wondered if it was just shock exhibiting in a strange way. He shook his head. He wheeled to the dresser, pretending he wasn't bothered at all by Jack's news. He withdrew a pair of socks, suspecting his feet were probably cold. Every inch of his body that he could feel ached with unhappiness. Closing his eyes, he struggled against the surging emotion. He'd never be good to anyone if he couldn't go more than ten minutes without doing a mini Jekyll/Hyde.

"I think we could give it some more time," Jack said. "It seems too soon, but Carter's excited. She thinks she and Teal'c have found a planet Teal'c claims has healing waters."

"Healing waters? We have places like that here on Earth," Daniel said, biting back further words when he saw Jack frown. He wasn't denying it was worth checking into. "Two weeks seems like long enough."

Rolling over to the window, he thought the rain on the glass looked like tears. Daniel reached out, tracing a drop as it took a directionless path downward. The socks bounced off his lap, landing on the footrest of the wheelchair.

"No healing waters that actually heal," Jack said. "And two weeks isn't that long in the grand scheme."

That was true. Daniel leaned, stretching to reach the wayward socks. He snagged them, on his way back up when he was overcome with intense pain. Gasping, his intended motion was lost and he sagged forward, head smacking into the window.

"Daniel?" Jack called

Hands tugged at Daniel's shoulders. He barely felt them. All he could feel was...

"Jack," he panted, clutching at his friend for support. "I think something's wrong."

Jack crouched in front of him, clasping Daniel's forearms in mirror to his grip on Jack's.

"What? What is it?"

"My back," Daniel said. Sharp pain stabbed at his lower back, so unexpected Daniel could scarcely breathe. "It hurts."

Jack shouted for help, not letting go of him.

~~*~~

Teal'c considered himself a Jaffa of action. He did not like when he was forced to do nothing, such as the case was now. Beside him, O'Neill sat nervously jostling a leg, the embodiment of the unrest he felt within. His friend had been uncharacteristically reticent since his explaining what had happened during his visit with Daniel Jackson. The lack of communication about the events only served to increase Teal'c's own concern. It had been hours since he and Captain Carter had been summoned, and yet there had been no word from Doctor Fraiser and O'Neill was no closer to giving them more than clipped, one-word answers.

He knew they would all prefer to be at Daniel Jackson's side, no matter what was truly going on. Teal'c suspected it was of great importance. Their friend should not be left alone when faced with news which would have a large impact on his life.

But Teal'c was left to wait, trapped with his thoughts all focused on one obvious thing. Human physiology was not a subject with which he was comfortable. In all honestly, his own physiology was unknown in some regards as well. He knew he could hear and see better than his companions. He knew the Goa'uld symbiote swimming within him allowed for these physical advantages. What he did now know was how the inner workings of his body were possible. So, too, he did not know what it meant for Daniel Jackson to experience sudden, and according to O'Neill, acute pain in physical regions he had felt nothing for some time. Captain Carter had speculated it might be a good thing, but her words were underlain with fear. Truly, Teal'c wished Doctor Fraiser would join them sooner rather than later, to confirm or deny Captain Carter's conjecture.

"What the hell is the holdup?" O'Neill asked under his breath, standing with jerky motions.

"Doctor Fraiser's probably just being thorough," Captain Carter said, her voice again belying the soothing intent behind her words.

"Damnit." O'Neill paced. "You didn't see what kind of pain he was in, Carter."

"Sir?"

O'Neill sat heavily, nervous energy gone as quickly as it had surged, returning to silence without answering Captain Carter's inquiry.

This led Teal'c to believe the memories playing in O'Neill's mind were extremely unpleasant. Tension radiated from both of his companions, and from within himself as well. Daniel was yet a mystery to him in many ways, but he felt there was potential for true comradeship. There had been. In his culture, Jaffa warriors did not associate with the crippled and infirm, solely due to social structure. A crippled individual could never join the ranks of a god's army. There was no need for interaction. He did not know, therefore, where he and Daniel Jackson might one day have stood, or how his new home on Earth would lend to the situation. He was uncertain how it would proceed, if it would at all.

He wondered, too, how likely it was the Waters of Jurata would assist in Daniel's physical state now, with these unknown added complications. Until Captain Carter broached the subject of alternative medicine with him, Teal'c had not considered Jurata's reputation as a healer among the Goa'uld to be anything more than legend, stories from his youth. In fact, he had not considered such a thing as a remedy for Daniel at all. Now that he had witnessed his friend fall to an inexplicable ailment, he was and remained prepared to defend the risk of sojourning to the Goa'uld-occupied planet on which the Waters were located. If there was even the smallest chance it could prove beneficial, the opportunity must be taken.

The only other alternative Teal'c had thought of involved procuring the use of a sarcophagus, and that was already deemed too dangerous. General Hammond would not authorize such a mission, and he could find no fault in that. The people of the Tau'ri were as yet uneducated about the ways of the Goa'uld System Lords. It was right to err on the side of caution. Teal'c found that he was and would remain prepared to take up this risky mission as readily as he did regarding the Waters of Jurata.

The sound of Doctor Fraiser's footfalls preceded her appearance around a far corner. She walked briskly, her heels clattering on the floor, and she was not alone. General Hammond was at her side, which surprised Teal'c, but pleased him. What did not please him were the expressions on their faces. Beside him, O'Neill and Captain Carter got to their feet as if their movements were coordinated. After a pause, Teal'c also stood, clasping his hands behind his back.

"I'd like you all to come with me," Doctor Fraiser said without preamble. Her eyes were filled with emotion. "This will be easier to show you than to explain it."

"Janet?" Captain Carter said.

"Follow me."

Doctor Fraiser did not wait. She began walking away, as if so much depended on the speed of her gait.

Teal'c allowed the others to go first. Truly, he was conflicted. He wished to understand what was happening, but he was also very apprehensive to know. If he did not have the knowledge, then it could not harm him. His reaction was illogical and not customary for him. With every footfall, his unease grew. The room Doctor Fraiser led them to was stark. Large white panels were on the far wall, and they all moved to stand next to them.

"After Daniel began experiencing pain, we gave him a full body scan," Doctor Fraiser said. She flicked a switch on one of the panels. It lit up. "X-Rays, MRI, CAT scans. Obviously, we hoped to determine the cause."

"Yes, obviously," O'Neill said, impatiently running a hand through his hair. "You found something. What is it, Doc?"

Doctor Fraiser pursed her lips, appearing more distraught than angry, however. Instead of replying, she picked up a film which was sitting on a small metal table. She lifted it up to the lit panel, securing it into place.

As one, every occupant of the room leaned closer. There was a small gasp, but then only silence, thick and heavy, hung in the air. Teal'c clenched his jaw, unhappy with what was so clear on the picture. He did not understand how something such as this could have been missed in prior examinations. Doctor Fraiser and her colleagues had done many on Daniel Jackson in the past weeks.

"Holy crap," O'Neill said at last. "Is that what I think it is?"

"No," Doctor Fraiser said. "I know it looks like it, but that is not a Goa'uld symbiote at any stage of maturity. It's too small and it ... doesn't respond to stimuli."

Beside him, Captain Carter made a strangled sound deep in the back of her throat. If Teal'c were prone to outward displays of emotion, he had no doubt he would be making similar noises. As it was, his whole being was tense as he stared at the image. The dark shape on Daniel's spinal cord was thin. It appeared to wind around his vertebrae. It did indeed appear very much like a miniature version of a Goa'uld. He looked away, disturbed.

"What is it, then?" Captain Carter asked.

"It's a tumor."

"Cancer?"

"We don't know for sure at this point. In fact, I'd venture to say it's not entirely relevant," Doctor Fraiser said. "Malignant or benign, the fact is this growth is pressing on Daniel's spinal column. It's squeezing, and is most definitely the reason for his paralysis."

O'Neill cursed under his breath.

"I don't understand, Doctor. Why wasn't this discovered before now?" General Hammond asked.

The doctor sighed and shook her head. Pulling another film from a folder, she flicked on another panel and placed the new image up. The patient number in the corner was the only way to know this was a picture of the same person.

"This was Daniel's initial scan," she said.

"There does not appear to be anything unusual on it," Teal'c said.

"No, there doesn't. By all appearances, there was nothing on it," Doctor Fraiser looked at the image with a frown on her face. "We had no reason to look beyond the first few scans. Everything was clean, and remained clean as we tested him. But when we first read the scan from today, I looked back at the old one more closely. You see this little speck?" She pointed to a spot his vision could barely discern. "I believe that's the growth. I must have taken it for nothing, a flaw from the machine or on the film, if I even noticed it at all. I honestly don't remember."

Teal'c could see she blamed herself for missing something that had not been there. It was not his place to tell her she was incorrect. He suspected that even if he did, she would not accept it. He glanced at his companions, all of whom were in various states of shock. This news was indeed unfortunate, though he was not entirely certain how the doctors would proceed.

"You couldn't have known," Captain Carter said. "I still don't see it, and I'm looking right at it."

As expected, Doctor Fraiser shook her head.

"How bad is this for Daniel?" O'Neill asked.

"It's not good, Colonel." Doctor Fraiser winced as if O'Neill had struck her; he had done no more than look perturbed. "Daniel really has only a few choices. One, he allows us to attempt surgical removal, which is a very delicate procedure and could leave him permanently paralyzed. Two, we try a less invasive technique - radiation could shrink it, but it's not a guarantee since we don't even know what it is. The third option is that he doesn't allow us to attempt surgical removal." She ceased speaking, but dread was in her eyes.

"What would happen if he chooses that?" Captain Carter prompted.

Doctor Fraiser blanched. "In the span of two weeks, this thing grew from nearly invisible to the naked eye to the size of an earthworm. At this point, I can only guess it'll keep growing exponentially if left untreated."

"Which means what?" O'Neill thumped the metal table, sending it crashing to the floor. "We need specifics, here."

"Which means without some form of treatment, Daniel will likely be dead within a month."

"Oh, god."

Teal'c had not even begun to accept his friend as disabled. He had a feeling processing this news would take longer than necessary, that instead of weeks he would have minutes or hours. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Captain Carter lean on the wall heavily, as if her world had become unstable. He locked his knees, knowing the feeling too well himself.

"Daniel understands the risks and has already made his choice. We're prepping him for emergency surgery right now," Doctor Fraiser said. "We only need to wait for staff from the SGC to arrive. Doctor Warner has the experience and the proper clearance, in case this turns out to be something more alien."

Teal'c remembered the last instance Doctor Warner had performed a similar surgery. He looked at O'Neill, whose face betrayed nothing. Teal'c knew, though, that his friend would also be thinking of Major Kawalsky. It was not an encouraging memory, instilling no confidence in him.

"It might be best if you all take the opportunity to speak with him before he's taken to the OR."

"What are his odds?" O'Neill asked.

"We're taking a big risk, sir, huge," Doctor Fraiser said. "Daniel knows that this could mean permanent paralysis. He was already prepared for that. But this could also be ... worse."

"Worse," General Hammond repeated. "As in...?"

Doctor Fraiser merely looked pained, giving a short nod.

"So, you're saying not good then." O'Neill's brusque words did nothing to disguise the concern in his tone.

"I'll take you to him."

They went as a group, following Doctor Fraiser as ducklings would follow their mother. Teal'c had not thought it possible for the atmosphere to be grimmer than it had been minutes ago, but as they approached Daniel there was nothing but silence. As Daniel smiled at each of them in turn, Teal'c knew there was something he hated more than waiting and that was saying goodbye.

~~*~~

Jack considered himself a man of action. He didn't like sitting around doing nothing but gazing at this navel and contemplating things that were truly too awful to contemplate. Worse, he couldn't help thinking about the waiting game he'd played with Charlie. With both Charlies. Thoughts about those times only made his gut ache and his need for movement more intense. He told himself it was okay this time, because he'd gotten a goodbye, such as it was.

"I'm going to get some more coffee," he said dully. He'd had six cups in the past six hours; he hadn't even needed the first. "Anyone else want anything?"

Because food and drink was important to any of them at the moment. Carter shook her head, looking away from him as if trying to disguise her watery eyes and red nose. Teal'c just tilted his head, the Jaffa equivalent of a glare, Jack supposed, and resumed his trance-like state. He envied the guy. If Jack could put himself into a trance at the moment, he'd take it. Instead, he was forced to watch the clock. Every tick seemed like it was one less for Daniel in this world.

"I think we're good, Jack," Hammond said.

They'd long past the time for formality, and this was another thing that worried him more than it comforted him. He expected Fraiser and Warner to come out, covered in blood and with sad, detached expressions on their faces. Jack had seen it all before. He knew what was more than likely coming, especially after he'd cornered Fraiser and demanded to know hard survival rate numbers.

Twenty percent.

He told himself that Daniel had beaten those odds before. Daniel had been dead before, Jack thought, back when Ra had shot him on Abydos. On Apophis' ship. A measly little lump of stupid whatever-it-was wasn't going to take the guy out. Not when he really felt this team was gelling into a strong unit. Not when he really felt Daniel was already a close friend. Contrary, stubborn and wordy as hell, but a damned close friend. A month ago, Jack wouldn't have even realized that.

He was at the coffee machine without realizing he'd made it all the way there. He'd even dropped in coins and punched in his order without knowing he was doing it. God, Jack couldn't get Daniel's harsh gasps of pain, the tightness of the grasp on his forearms, out of his head. The memories flip-flopped with Daniel smiling at them from his rollaway gurney, as he headed into the OR, so calm when Jack was so panicked.

Walking back to the waiting area, it was only when he arrived that he discovered he didn't bring the cup of bad coffee with him. He found he didn't care, sitting down on the longer of the two sofas. Then he blinked, and General Hammond no longer sat with them. Not only that, but there was early morning sun streaming in one of the corridor windows creating a bright, giant square on the floor. Jack sat up, muscles stiff. Across the way, Teal'c was looking at him, perched on a puke-brown armchair, goofy hat pulled down low on his forehead.

"Good morning, O'Neill," Teal'c said.

"Right," he said. "Daniel?"

"There has been no official word. Doctor Fraiser came some time ago to inform us Daniel Jackson was still 'under the knife'. She did not wish to wake you."

"Comforting," Jack said sarcastically.

"Indeed."

Grimacing, Jack ran a hand down his face. Carter was on the loveseat, sleeping. Her nose looked to be chronically red and sore. He glanced at his watch. They'd been sitting like useless lumps for ten hours, Daniel in surgery for nine of them, and he couldn't say when he'd dozed off. He counted himself lucky that he'd managed rest at all. Those where minutes or hours he hadn't been wracked with concern, and selfishly thought he'd needed them.

Twenty percent.

He knew every second they spent with Daniel's back wide open on an operating table was a second lessening those odds.

"Hammond?"

"General Hammond departed for the SGC after Doctor Fraiser delivered her news. He instructed me to inform you to call him when Daniel Jackson is out of surgery."

Right. The first thing he was going to do was find a phone. Jack's thoughts were snarky, but he truly did appreciate Hammond's dedication to his people. While the base's operations clearly had to outweigh anything else, it spoke of the general's character that he cared this much. The SGC was lucky to have someone like George Hammond at its head.

"I don't suppose Fraiser said how much longer this could go on."

"She did not."

Great. Jack stood, aimlessly circling the small waiting area. He felt Teal'c's eyes on him, but he couldn't help it. Every time someone passed in the hall, Jack half-expected it to be Fraiser. It never was. Carter roused about fifteen minutes after Jack had awoken, sitting dumbly with her hair sticking every which way. Something about it broke Jack's heart a little, having never seen her as anything but forceful in demeanor, a trait probably just as environmental as it was natural. Being a woman in any of the military branches wasn't a picnic. But that didn't really matter; he was simply distracting himself.

"Sir," Carter said.

He looked at her. She was looking at someone else. Jack turned. Fraiser stood in the doorway, Warner directly behind her. Neither of them wore bloody scrubs. This wasn't the emergency room, he reminded himself.

"Doc?" he croaked.

Fraiser stood there for a moment, exhausted and pale, and Jack's heart was in his throat until he saw the corners of her mouth lift in a weary smile.

"He's all right," Carter breathed.

Fraiser's smile dropped a hair. "He's alive. We won't know for a while yet if he'll regain the use of his legs."

Ah, shit. She couldn't have let them bask in the good news before delivering the potentially bad? Jack scowled for a moment, but then found himself just glad to have Daniel alive. Before, so much had hinged on getting Daniel on two legs again. Now, there was perspective.

"When can we see him?" he said shakily, betraying his cool exterior and true feelings. He didn't much care.

"You can see him now, if you like, though he's quite groggy and probably won't remember you were there. It'll also have to be one at a time," Warner said, pushing his way forward. "Doctor Jackson's been through a long ordeal. I wouldn't expect him to be aware of much for the next several hours at the least."

Whatever. Jack didn't care. He was going in, had to see for himself that Doctor Daniel Jackson was still among the living. He got to the door before he turned around. Carter and Teal'c smiled. Okay, well, Carter practically beamed, while Teal'c looked subdued and pleased in a totally Jaffa kind of way.

Warner escorted him to a room, where he had to put on a disposable gown, cap and mask. Precautions, Jack was told. He impatiently put up with the protocol, knowing in the back of his mind it was there for good reason. No amount of prepping beforehand prepared him to see Daniel, pale, on some kind of contraption that held him prone. But his arms and, Jack swore, his legs, fished around ever so slightly with weak, awkward movements.

"Hey, Daniel," Jack said. "You're going to be all right."

~~*~~

His office was a disaster area. If he had his way, he'd get the president to declare it a state of emergency and call the National Guard. Or Hammond, and not the National Guard but maybe a stray colonel or captain or Jaffa. Daniel walked slowly around the clutter, appreciating even the dust that tickled his nose and prompted a painful, full-body sneeze. He didn't even mind the twinge in his back, which wasn't insubstantial.

He never expected to walk the halls of the SGC again.

Confined to on-world activities for the time being, Daniel was going to take the opportunity to arrange his office the way it suited him. More personalization and function than it currently had. He'd always thought of his role at the SGC as a temporary one, and he still did. But somehow now he also wanted to be at home here as well. Perhaps he might even convince Sha're to join him on Earth when he got her back. He leaned to pick up a book, back protesting before he'd gotten anywhere near it.

The doctors warned him it would take time for him to manage even light lifting. He'd hoped they were exaggerating, but daily evidence and painful twitches told him they hadn't been. He'd have months of physical therapy to undergo, which didn't bother him too terribly much. It seemed a fair trade for the use of his legs. He liked Maggie, and now that the exercises weren't ones of futility, he even enjoyed the therapy sessions. Every day now was a reminder of how lucky he was, even the reminders of recent major surgery. It was amazing how perspectives could change so quickly. A knock at the door alerted him to company.

"Hey, you getting all settled?" Sam asked, carrying a small potted plant. She held it up. "You said you were going to spruce things up, so I thought I'd give you a start."

"Thanks, Sam. You can put that..." Daniel glanced around the chaos. "...anywhere you can find a free surface space."

He'd kill that plant within a week. It was the thought that counted, though. For a while, he thought he'd lost his friendship with Sam, and the tenuous relationship he had with Teal'c. Hell, actually the loss of his legs had come dangerously close to being the loss of much more than that. In a way, he had much to be thankful for all because of the recent scare.

His thoughts often returned to the man on P9C-742, wondering if he would ever know what had become of them. Daniel wanted to know if he'd somehow taken the burden of the tumor from the Wiutehians man as he suspected. He took small comfort in knowing Doctor Fraiser had acknowledged the possibility the tumor hadn't been Earth-based; nothing she had ever encountered had such a rapid growth rate. He shuddered.

"So, you ready for a break from this?" Sam asked. "I could really use some company for lunch."

"Sure, that sounds good."

They hadn't made it ten steps from his office when the corridor was filled with a loud, booming voice over the PA system, "Captain Carter, to the control room. Captain Carter, to the control room."

"Oh," she said. "Do you mind if we sidetrack for a bit?"

Daniel smiled his consent, sweeping an arm toward the elevator. A bit would probably turn out to be hours, as was often the case. He didn't mind. He probably couldn't be of any help up there, but it'd be nice to be close to the action again for a little while. Until Sam got too wrapped up in whatever she was being paged for, and then he could slip out and get back to reclaiming his life.

Stairs still gave him problems, so while Sam bolted up them Daniel clutched onto the handrail and took his time. By the time he got to the control room, he was sweating. He hoped it wasn't too obvious - he didn't want anyone to think he wasn't ready to be back. He'd worked too hard. To his surprise, Jack and Teal'c stood behind Sam as she clacked on a keyboard.

"We dialed it again this morning as you requested," the gate technician was saying, "And it looks like we lucked out."

Everyone in the room seemed to know what was going on, leaving Daniel feeling like a sixth ... seventh wheel as General Hammond joined them.

"What's going on?"

"I know you said you wouldn't change anything and now the point is moot, but I've had the techs periodically dial P9C-742 just to see if we'd ever get through again. I couldn't get the slums out of my mind. I thought if we could get back there, we could help them somehow," Sam said hurriedly, looking back at Daniel with a sad smile. "It's been inaccessible for months."

"Oh," Daniel said stupidly. "Okay."

"Preparing the MALP," the gate tech said.

"Send it through," General Hammond ordered. "I'd like to see if we can't reopen 'relations' with those people myself."

Jack and Teal'c both moved to either side of Daniel, as if he needed protection. He didn't, but he didn't mind their sentry. Some days it felt like he got nearly everything he wanted, giving him hope that other, bigger things would also work out. He leaned on the back of Sam's chair, waiting nervously. A hand was on his shoulder.

"You okay?" Jack said too softly for anyone but him to hear.

"I'm good," Daniel replied. "I think."

The room went silent as the MALP crossed the event horizon. It took a minute to get the camera up and running, but when it did ... oh, crap. Someone whistled.

"Are you sure you dialed the right place?" Jack asked.

"It's definitely P9C-742, sir."

"Wow."

The room which housed the Stargate had changed drastically. The grandeur and spotlessness were replaced with partial decay, as if they had suffered some kind of natural disaster. Or war. There were no people bustling about the area, another stark contrast; Daniel remembered had been busy on their first visit.

"What do you suppose happened?" General Hammond.

"My guess? They got what was coming to them," Jack said, wholly unsympathetic.

Daniel cringed. He hadn't liked the classism they'd found on Wiutehia, but he didn't wish Bajiar or his people destruction. He let go of the chair, stepping back only to find his left leg betrayed him, giving out slightly. Teal'c caught hold of him, buttressing him up.

"Thanks," he said. "I'm okay."

Teal'c gave him a nod, turning back to the screen.

There were people in the shot, Daniel saw. He didn't recognize any of ... wait.

"Sam, pan back."

Standing in the middle of the room, on his own two feet, was the man who'd grabbed him. Daniel was certain of it. Judging from the reactions of his friends, he wasn't alone in the assessment.

"That's the guy," Jack said. "He's looking better."

Daniel watched the man approach the camera warily. One little touch, he thought, could one little touch have made such a huge change?

"It appears as though your theory was correct, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said, and Daniel thought he detected some amount of awe in his voice.

"I'm not sure old Newton had it right. There's nothing equal about this." Jack squeezed him on the shoulder. "I think one little touch started a revolution, Danny. What do you say we go find out?"

 

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Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. This is a parody for entertainment purposes only. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author. This story may not be posted anywhere without the consent of the author.